Vorombe titan, which literally means “big bird” in Malagasy and Greek, is an extinct flightless bird which was once widespread on Madagascar. It survived on a plant based diet.
By studying hundreds of elephant bird bones from museums around the world, researchers at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have now provided a definitive answer to decades of conflicting evidence over which winged creature was truly the world’s largest.
Bird feared extinct rediscovered in the Bahamas
They found that V titan was a distinct species of the feathered elephant bird weighing up to 860 kg.
In 1894, British scientist CW Andrews came across a specimen which was given the name Aepyornis titan.
For years afterwards it was dismissed as simply an unusually large specimen of another species, Aepyornis maximus, which until now considered to be the world’s largest bird.
However, ZSL’s research revealed that Andrew’s "titan" bird was in fact, a distinct species.
The shape and size of its bones were found to be so different from all other elephant birds that it has now been given the new genus name, Vorombe.
An artist's illustration of the Vorombe titan (Heidi Ma)
Its new classification makes it the world’s largest bird with a body mass to rival some dinosaur species including the herbivorous europasaurus and europasaurus.
Despite their powerful legs and fearsome talons the V titan birds were peaceful herbivores, living mainly on fruit.
One of their giant eggs could have fed an entire family, although there is no evidence of direct nest raiding.
Vorombe titan bones studied by the ZSL team (ZSL)
“Elephant birds were the biggest of Madagascar’s megafauna and arguably one of the most important in the islands evolutionary history – even more so than lemurs," said Dr James Hansford of the ZSL's Institute of Zoology and lead author of the study published in the Royal Society journal, Open Science.