Giant flightless BIRD of Madagascar.
Etymology: From the Malagasy (Austronesian) voron ("bird") + patra (uncertain meaning).
Variant name: Vouroupatra.
Physical description: Large. Ostrichlike.
Significant sighting: In 1658, the first French governor of Madagascar, Etienne de Flacourt, described a large, elusive bird that laid eggs like an ostrich.
Possible explanation: Undoubtedly, this description referred to the Giant elephantbird (Aepyornis maximus), the heaviest known bird, which stood 10 feet high and weighed nearly 1,000 pounds. Its eggs were over a foot in length, had a capacity equivalent to 150 hen's eggs, and constituted the largest single cell known on Earth. Mullerornis was a smaller species about the size of an ostrich. When Aepy-ornis became extinct is not known. It probably existed in remote spots in the interior during the seventeenth century and was well known to the
Antandroy tribe in the south. It may even have lingered until the mid-nineteenth century, when its subfossil eggs first started exciting scientific interest.
Sources: Etienne de Flacourt, Histoire de la grande isle Madagascar (Paris: G. de Luyne, 1658); Hugh Edward Strickland, "Supposed Existence of a Giant Bird in Madagascar," Annals and Magazine of Natural History, ser. 2, 4 (1849): 338-339; Errol Fuller, Extinct Birds (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001), pp. 34-35.
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