Feeds

NZ scientists identify giant, man-eating eagle

Legendary Te Hokioi really existed

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Scientists appear to have confimed that a legendary man-eating flying beast which terrorised New Zealand's Maori actually existed, the Independent reports.

Maori lore tells of the Te Hokioi - a "huge black-and-white predator with a red crest and yellow-green tinged wingtips" - and named after its cry, as locals explained to early NZ governor Sir George Gray.

Maori oral tradition maintains that a Te Hokioi once challenged a hawk to a race to the heavens, a contest which ended with the hawk defeated by clouds and wind, while the Te Hokioi disappeared into the stratosphere.

Researchers now believe the Te Hokioi was indeed a formidable animal, none other than Haast's eagle (Harpagornis moorei), the remains of which were first discovered in the 1870s by Sir Julius von Haast.

Intitial studies of the animal's skull indicated that the 18kg, three metre wingspan bird was a vulture-style scavenger, "because its bill was similar to a vulture's with hoods over its nostrils to stop flesh blocking its air passages as it rooted around inside carcasses".

However, teams from Canterbury Museum in Christchurch and the University of New South Wales in Australia subjected the Te Hokioi's skeleton to re-examination using CAT scans and other advanced techniques to reveal it "had a strong enough pelvis to support a killing blow as it dived at speeds of up to 80km/h".

This structural strength, coupled to talons the size of a tiger's claws, mean the Te Hokioi was more than capable of striking fear into the Maori.

Paul Scofield, the curator of vertebrate zoology at the Canterbury Museum, explained: "It was certainly capable of swooping down and taking a child. They had the ability to not only strike with their talons but to close the talons and put them through quite solid objects such as a pelvis. It was designed as a killing machine."

Haast's eagle attacking moa. Art: John Megahan

The Te Hokioi's most likely prey, though, was the flightless moa (see pic above, courtesy of PLoS Biology). Scofield explained: "In some fossil sites, moa bones have been found with signs of eagle predation."

Ultimately, it was probably the Te Hokioi's diet which proved its downfall. There were probably no more than 1,000 breeding pairs at any one time, and its decline was precipitated by the arrival of man in NZ, 1,000 years ago.

Humans hunted the moa into extinction, and the Te Hokioi disappeared from the skies 500 years ago.

The researchers' finding are reported in The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. ®

Bootnote

PLoS Biology has more background on the evolution of the Haast's eagle here.

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.