Controversial prehistoric egg identified as last ‘devil death duck’

The only almost completely intact Genyornis eggshell has been discovered. It was located by N. Spooner and collected by Gifford H. Miller, South Australia. The presence of four punctures on the egg indicates that it was preceded by an oozing follicle. Credit: Gifford H. Miller

Researchers identify ancient birds behind giant prehistoric eggs

The years-long scientific debate has been settled in Australia over which animal is the true mother of the giant primordial egg. In a recent study, scientists from University of Copenhagen Their global counterparts showed that the eggs could only be the last of a rare series of megafauna known as the “demon ducks of death”.

Consider living next to a bird that is 200 kg, 2 m long, and has a huge beak. This was the situation for the first people to settle in Australia about 65,000 years ago.

Juniors Newtonianthe last members of the “satanic ducks,” coexisted there with our ancestors as a species of the now-extinct family of duck-like birds.

Genyornis Illustrate

Illustration of Genyornis Newtoni being hunted by a giant lizard in Australia about 50,000 years ago. Credit: Illustration provided by artist Peter Trossler.

According to a recent study by experts from the University of Copenhagen and an international team of colleagues, the flightless bird lays eggs the size of a melon, presumably to the delight of ancient humans who likely collected and consumed them as their primary source of protein. The research has just been published in the magazine Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Since experts first discovered the 50,000-year-old eggshell pieces 40 years ago, the massive eggs have been the subject of debate. It was not known until recently whether eggs really belong to the family of “devil ducks”, also known as dromornithids.

Since 1981, the identity of the egg-laying bird has been a source of controversy for scientists around the world. While some have suggested Juniors NewtonianOthers believe that the missiles from Progora Bird, an extinct member of the megapode species group. Progora They were “chicken-like birds” that weighed only five to seven kilograms and had huge feet.

Eggshells are too little, according to proponents Progora A bird, for a bird the size of Juniors Newtonian to put them.

“However, our analysis of protein sequences from eggs clearly shows that eggshell cannot come from megacode and Progora Josephine Stiller, assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Copenhagen and one of the researchers behind the new study explains.

“They could only be Genyornis. As such, we have halted a long and heated discussion about the origin of these oocytes,” adds co-author and University of Copenhagen professor Matthew Collins, whose research area is evolutionary genetics.

Emu Egg and Genyornis Newtoni

To the right is an emu egg and to the left is the egg, which researchers believe originated from the demon Duck of Doom, Juniors Newtonian. The last egg weighs about 1.5 kilograms, which is more than 20 times the weight of an average chicken egg. Credit: Trevor Worthy

Select the protein analysis and parent gene database

In the sand dunes of Wallaroo and Woodpoint, South Australia, scientists examined proteins from eggshells.

The proteins were broken into small pieces by bleaching before the researchers assembled the pieces in the correct sequence and used artificial intelligence to study their structure. The protein sequences gave them a set of genetic “codes” that they could compare to the genes of more than 350 bird species currently in existence.

Genyornis Newtonian femur

femur from Juniors Newtonian (Left) And to your right is a sphenoid bone somewhat smaller than a dome. Credit: Trevor Worthy

“We used our data from the B10K project, which currently contains the genomes of all major bird lineages, to reconstruct the group of birds to which the extinct bird likely belonged. It became abundantly clear that the eggs were not laid by a megacode, and therefore do not belong to ProgoraJosephine Stiller explains.

Thus, researchers have solved the mystery of the origin of the ancient Australian eggs and provided us with new knowledge about evolution.

“We are pleased to have conducted a multidisciplinary study in which we have used protein sequence analysis to shed light on animal evolution,” concludes Matthew Collins.

Eggs were consumed by early humans in Australia

Previous research on egg shards suggests that the shells were cooked and then thrown into fire pits. The charring on the surfaces of eggshell is a confirmation of this, proving that the first Australians devoured the eggs about 65,000 years ago.

Genyornis eggshell fragments

Eggshell fragments from an ancient nest in South Australia. The mass of eggshell collected within a square meter is equivalent to about 12 whole eggs. Credit: Gifford H. Miller

The first Australians harvested whites from nests, which the hypothesis says, may have led to the extinction of the Jenornis 47,000 years ago.

For more information on this research, see The first Australian people to eat giant eggs of huge flightless birds.

Reference: “Ancient Proteins Solve the Genyornis Eggshell Identity Debate” by Beatrice Demarche, Josephine Stiller, Alicia Greeley, Megan McKee, Yuan Ding, Tom Gilbert, Julia Clarke, Lucas J. Maggie, Joji Zhang, Michael Pons, Matthew James Collins, and Gifford Miller, May 24, 2022, Available here. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2109326119

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