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Prehistoric Roundup

September 10, 2010

Prehistoric terror birds ruled ancient South America.


Hunting down the terror bird. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The Terror Bird had a head the size of a horse’s, but shaped like that of an eagle, with a huge beak. Instead of flying, it ran and six million years ago, it hunted in what is now Argentina. A team of scientists just published a computer analysis of the skull and concluded that the bird killed prey with a hatchet-like motion of its beak—its bones and muscles were designed to strike downward and pull back. The huge birds have no living relatives today, so the only clues to their behavior come from their bones.

In other prehistoric news, scientists at Princeton have discovered what may be the oldest animal fossils ever found—primitive sponges living 650 million years ago. The period coincides with Earth’s longest and coldest ice age, when it was thought no animal life could have existed. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.