Giant moa bird (Dinornis robustus, literally meaning 'robust strange bird') may not have actually had robust bones, according to new research conducted by The University of Manchester. The leg bones of one of the tallest birds that ever existed were actually rather like those of its modern (but distant) relatives, such as ostrich, emu and rhea, the studypublished in PLOS One today (18 December) shows.
The study, led by biomechanics researcher Charlotte Brassey, in collaboration with palaeobiologist Professor Richard Holdaway at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, has found that the largest of the moa species had leg bones similar to those of modern flightless birds that can run fast, whereas a much smaller species of moa – from a different family - had an extremely robust skeleton.
Ms Brassey said:"Our research suggests that this group of birds came up with several different solutions to deal with the problem of supporting the large body necessary to process a diet of coarse vegetation.
"We know that these species of moa were living together in the same locations, at the same time. So we don't think the differences we're seeing in leg robustness are adaptations to a particular habitat type.
"Instead it seems they were perhaps engaging in different behaviours, although both could deal with extremely rough terrain."