Cenozoic Shock Part 1: Titanis walleri
This is the beginning of something very cool, a series on the mammals and birds of the Cenozoic era. I start with a request on Titanis, one of the most genuinely badass of birds. It lived fairly recently, from 4.9 to 1.8 million years ago. Though there are some rather unverifiable remains that may suggest that Titanis lived until roughly 15,000 BCE, the previous time constraint suggested is probably more correct. Though Titanis was previously referred to as the most recently extant phorusrhacid, its record has been broken by an undescribed Brazilian relative of Titanis.
Anyway, Titanis was a dangerous terrestrial predator, and a member of the bird family called the Phorusrhacidae, a group also called “terror birds,” mostly because they were terrifying. Think about it. They were predatory cursorial birds that stood taller than man, could run at least 65 miles per hour (in Titanis’s case, that is) and possessed deadly axe-shaped beaks. Titanis is important biogeographically because it was the only member of its otherwise South American group to ascend up to North America. Titanis’s fossils have been found in Gilchrist County, Florida, and nowhere else.
Titanis is like its more famous theropod cousin, Tyrannosaurus, in that its arms are very puny, and served absolutely no help in the department of flying. The wing bones do possess an interesting structure that resemble joints, which may mean that this bird could move its fingers independently, much like its other more famous theropod cousin, Deinonychus. Further support for this interesting hypothesis ocmes from the fact that Titanis’s hands couldn’t fold back against the arm like the wings of other birds can. Is it possible that Titanis was a terrestrial predator similar to its ancient relatives, the confusingly monikered ‘raptors?’
Newer debates have suggested that this was kind of unlikely. As it turns out, seriamas, which are fairly close relatives to the extinct terror birds, have similar hand structure, and don’t have hands like deinonychosaurs. In fact, seriamas have fairly typical-looking wings. Considering this, it’s more likely that Titanis simply had very stubby wings, like those of other flightless birds.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the first post about the strange animals of the Cenozoic Era. Particularly, I like them because they’re close to the animals of today and their evolutionary paths are traceable, but they’re still very foreign and distinct. Heck, some of their histories run into our species’ history! The next post’s subject is up to you. Bombard my askbox.