The world of history is full of terrible monsters, yet while most people know about dinosaurs, which ruled the animal kingdom until their extinction some 65 million years ago, few know about the predator that replaced them: the terror bird.
Where the terror bird was found and the fossils
The Argentine paleontologist Florentino discovered the first fossilized terror bird (Phorusrhacos) in 1887. Initially, this giant bird was thought to be a herbivorous mammal due to its large size. Later, in 1891, other fossil discoveries confirmed that the initial find was a giant bird and not a mammal. Remains have been found in various locations in the province of Santa Cruz, Argentina. Recent fossil discoveries in Comallo, Argentina, have revealed new information about the shape of the bird's skull, confirming that it had a hooked bill that exceeded half the length of the rest of the skull.
The terrorist bird had a massive body size
Between about 60 million and 2 million years ago, terror birds dominated South America as advanced predators. Using their size, speed, and efficient beaks to dominate entire continents, terror birds ruled the forests and plains of South America shortly after the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Thought to be the largest flightless bird ever recorded, the terror bird stood over 3 meters tall. It probably weighed about 130-400 kg. Compared to the modern flightless ostrich, the terror bird had a rather large head and a more fearsome beak than an eagle.
The terror bird's small wings made it impossible to fly. However, there is an unusual sharp claw on the wing, which the terror bird can use as a weapon. But its most powerful weapon is its axe-like beak, which can rip apart prey and kill them instantly. The terror bird also has long, skinny legs that can be adapted for running. Their thick feet have sharp claws that can also attack prey. The huge stride and wide heart allowed it to run faster than a horse at full speed.
Fossil evidence suggests that all terror birds were carnivorous. The downward curve of the tip of their powerful beaks resembles that of modern raptors. Like many extant birds with such beaks, they likely used their beaks to remove meat from their prey.
Changes in habitat and area domination of terror birds
The Early Miocene to Middle Pleistocene period was the peak of terror bird dominance, which occurred about 20 million to 1.8 million years ago. During this time, South America was an isolated continent, and for millions of years, terror birds were the top predators.
Many of their fossils are found in the Santa Cruz Formation in the Santa Cruz Province of Argentina. Grasslands, deserts, and woodlands were characteristic of the region at the time, and terror birds most likely used grasslands and woodlands as preferred habitats. Their range may have covered the southernmost region of South America, Patagonia, which now covers parts of present-day Argentina and Chile.
For a long time, terror birds were the largest birds isolated on the South American continent. However, the emergence of the Isthmus of Panama (a land bridge connecting North and South America) 2.7 million years ago allowed saber-toothed tigers and other large carnivores to migrate to South America, thus upsetting the balance of power in the region. Given the dingo's size and fierce appearance, it is unlikely that these new predators would have preyed on it, as the terror can defend itself with its bill and claws.
When did the terror bird become extinct?
The appearance of the Isthmus of Panama about 2.7 million years ago marked the beginning of the extinction of the South American dingo. The Isthmus of Panama first connected North and South America, and many ancient carnivorous felines, dogs, and bears entered South America, which increased competition for food between dingoes and invasive species. And, coupled with climate change, they may not be able to cope, which may have affected their hunting strategies and led to their extinction.
Because fewer fossils have been found, paleontologists do not believe that the cause of the extinction of the terror bird is that simple. At present, many mysteries about the terror hen still exist and are yet to be uncovered and proven by paleontologists.