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One would think that an elephant bird egg, the largest laid by any vertebrate ever — including dinosaurs and ancient reptiles — would be hard to miss for 80 years. Yet, that is precisely what Paige Langle at New York’s Buffalo Museum of Science discovered recently while inputting the institution’s extensive collections, many of which only exist on cards and ledgers, into the museum’s computer system.
The collections manager of zoology stumbled upon the rare specimen, only 40 of which are believed to exist, inside a cabinet which had not been opened for some years. Measuring 12 inches long with a circumference of 24 inches, the pristine cream-colored egg, which weighed over three pounds, lay encased inside a box marked “model.”
Suspecting it was the real thing, Langle decided to investigate further. “I tried to shrug it off, but the more closely I looked at the surface of the eggshell and felt the weight of the egg, the more I kept thinking this has to be real,” she says. Upon digging further, Langle discovered museum records of an elephant egg acquisition from Edward Gerrard & Sons, a British taxidermy collector, for $92 in 1939.
To confirm if the records were referring to the egg she had found, Langle dispatched the precious specimen to conservation experts at Buffalo State for testing. Sure enough, radiography images found that not only was the egg authentic, but it had also been fertilized and contained fragments of the developing chick. Not surprisingly, the museum is thrilled at this rare, unexpected find, which is currently being showcased as part of their new exhibit Rethink Extinct, that opened to the public on May 1, 2018.
Though not as big as an adult pachyderm, the Elephant bird that once roamed the island of Madagascar was a giant among birds. Measuring 10 feet tall and weighing between 770 to 1,100 pounds, the majestic flightless animal was an herbivore that sustained itself on the island’s abundant low hanging fruit. However, their idyllic life changed around 500 B.C when humans arrived. In addition to partaking in the birds’ food supply, the settlers also poached their eggs, one of which was big enough to feed an entire family. Researchers believe these factors, along with a loss of habitat, led to the extinction of these majestic birds some time in the 17th century. It is no wonder the few elephant bird eggs still in existence, fetch as much as $100,000 from collectors and museums.
Resources: sciencebuff.org, smithsonianmag.org,buffalorising.com