January 07, 2011
Researchers have discovered that the thick wing bones of an ancient flightless bird which once lived in Jamaica may have been used as clubs to beat predators and even members of its own species.
In a study published in Royal Society journal Proceedings B, the scientists revealed that the wing bones of the extinct ibis represent a completely unique adaptation.
The metacarpus ("hand" bones) of X. xympithecus>/i> are described in the paper as "grotesquely inflated", with thick walls. Their "finger" bones, or phalanges, are "block-like". Their radii (arms) are substantially enlarged.
X. xympithecus was related to this green ibis. Photo taken in Costa Rica by Rhett A. Butler
"...we analysed two bones that had been broken during fighting, including a humerus (upper arm bone) that had been snapped in half - it had started to re-heal, although the two ends hadn't knitted together," Dr. Nicholas Longrich, co-author of the study, told BBC News.
Many bird species use their wings to protect themselves and their nests from predators and conspecifics. The wings of many duck, geese, and swan species bear a bony knob that is used to flail enemies. An extinct solitaire which lived on the Indian Ocean island of Rodrigues had bony growths known as "musketballs" on their wings, with which they could inflict a powerful blow.
"But among vertebrates - there's no animal of any sort that has anything like a limb modified as a club," said Dr. Longrich to the BBC.
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