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Requiem for Diatryma: An SVPCA Epilogue
Well, it has been a bad year for well-known, much-loved genera. First,
Dinohyus becomes sunk into Daeodon, Anchisaurus is on the way out, and now
it appears that Diatryma is gone for good. If I may be allowed to wax
poetic for a moment, pehaps this is for the best. Probably like many among
you, Diatryma was one of the first if not THE first fossil bird
encountered as a child. I can still
recall the early images of a titanic ralloid creature preparing to
pounce upon and slaughter a fleeing Hyracotherium (another name, albeit
much less beloved, whose meaning has been dramatically altered of late).
This was the essential, eternal image of Diatryma, a feared "terror crane"
whose grim pursuits were ignored by only the mightiest uintatheres.
Perhaps Diatryma was not the most poetic or even really most descriptive
of names, but for some reason Gastornis does not evoke the same image one
immediately associates with Diatryma. Of course, as I said earlier,
perhaps this is for the best, because in many ways the classic concept of
Diatryma died several years before the destruction of the genus through
junior synonymization. Forced in many analyses of morphology and probable
lifestyle to represent simply a giant, grass-cutting, fairly innocuous
herbivore, what I liken to as the spirit in the genus was gone as soon as
the creature slipped from terror of the Eocene to oversized tahake. So, as
Brontosaurus evokes in many minds still the lumbering,
camarasaurid-skulled creature of 50s dinosaur books, a fantastic beast of
paleolore, while its alter ego Apatosaurus remains a living aspect of
dinosaur science, so it seems must Diatryma enter that unreal realm while
Gastornis contentedly browses on through the scientific literature. Even
with phorusrhacoids seemingly more than making up for this loss in the
"awesome killer bird" category in many minds, I for one will miss
Diatryma. May it disembowel Eohippus (that's right, Eohippus) in peace.