Giant prehistoric ‘terror birds' looked so fierce that many paleontologists assumed they were terrifying predators, but new research finds that the would-be carnivores were probably herbivores.
The terror bird, aka Gastornis, grew to nearly 7 feet tall. It lived between 55 to 40 million years ago in Europe and possessed a huge, sharp beak.
"The terror bird was thought to have used its huge beak to grab and break the neck of its prey, which is supported by biomechanical modeling of its bite force," Thomas Tütken from the University of Bonn, who led the research, was quoted as saying in a press release. "It lived after the dinosaurs became extinct and at a time when mammals were at an early stage of evolution and relatively small; thus, the terror bird was thought to have been a top predator at that time on land."
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Wrong, according to the latest findings, presented by Tütken and his team at the Goldschmidt conference in Florence this week.
An early clue came by way of footprints likely left behind by an American cousin of Gastornis. The footprints do not show imprints of sharp claws, which would have been expected as tools to grapple prey. Today's raptors, for example, sport such sharp claws.