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This article is from the Sydney Morning Herald. (It's already Monday in
Monday, June 14, 1999
Sharp-eyed giant dinosaur bird could barely even smell
By JAMES WOODFORD, Science Writer
A 20-million-year-old cast of the brain of an extinct bird - complete with
the imprint of blood vessels
and evidence of both highly developed sight and extremely poor smell - has
been found by a team of
scientists working in the World-Heritage-listed Riversleigh fossil site.
The fossil was found last week and is believed to be the remains of a group
of thunder birds, or
dromornithids. Dromornithids include some of the largest birds that have
ever lived - weighing up to
The director of the Australian Museum and long-time researcher of the
Riversleigh fossil site in far
north-west Queensland, Dr Mike Archer, said: "This is the brain of the demon
duck of doom.
"It looks to be a bird with stunning visual capacity. It was ferociously
well sighted but it has
olfactory lobes that are pathetically tiny. It couldn't smell its own poo if
it stepped in it."
While some thunderbirds had heads the size of a horse, the fossil brain now
in Sydney can fit into
the palm of a hand.
The fossil includes the brain stem right through to the point where it
passes into the vertebrae and
becomes the spinal cord.
It is at least six times bigger than an emu brain and bigger than the brain
of any bird alive today. The
cast of the brain is so perfectly preserved that, according to Dr Archer,
"the only thing you need to
imagine is what it was thinking".
The curator of birds at the Australian Museum, Mr Walter Boles, said the
area of the cerebellum
responsible for motor control also seemed a bit small - possibly because the
creature was flightless.
Mr Boles said the skull could provide clues as to whether it was a hunter or
"If these things were predatory, perhaps they will share certain
characteristics with birds of prey,"
Mr Boles said.