Phorusrhacids were large flightless birds native to South America. The larger species were top predators and the entire group is frequently referred to as “Terror Birds”. An article in Nature announces the discovery of one of the largest Phorusrhacid skull ever found.
[Added Later: Darren Naish has two excellent posts on the subject:
Terror Birds and More on phorusrhacids: the biggest, the fastest, the mostest out-of-placest]
The skull is 716 mm long. Also found was a tarsometatarsus. Based on analysis of both, researchers were able to come up with some interesting insights into large Phorusrhacids. First, large Phorusrhacids were not just scaled up versions of smaller species. Second, based on measurements of the tarsometatarsus researchers concluded that the bird was much quicker, locomotion wise, than previously thought.
Chiappe and Bertelli, 2006, Skull morphology of giant terror birds, Nature 443:929
What could be cooler?
Added Later: Since several people have asked, here is an artist reconstruction of what the new find would look like:
Also, according to National Geographic:
The largest terror birds could likely swallow dog-size prey in a single gulp, experts say.
Filed under: Paleontology