Australia's Vanished Beasts

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Genyornis newtoni

Genyornis newtoni
This giant flightless bird compared in size to the biggest of New Zealand's extinct moas and Madagascar's extinct elephant birds—the largest birds that ever lived. But anatomically it is different from all other birds, including Australia's living emus. Altogether, at least six genera and eight species of mihirungs—which are commonly known as thunderbirds—lived in Australia in the past 15 million years; all are extinct. What role humans might have played in their extinction remains unknown, although people and mihirungs did overlap. Indeed, one Aboriginal tribe had a name for "giant emus"—mihirung paringmal. Here, a mihirung collects pebbles from a Genyornis carcass; the swallowed pebbles help break down food.

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