The terror bird, Phorusrhacos (1887)
Phylum : ChordataClass : AvesOrder : CariamiformesFamily : PhorusrhacidaeGenus : PhorusrhacosSpecies : P. longissimus
Early/middle Miocene (12 Ma)
2,5 m tall and 130 kg (size)
South America (map)

Phorusracos (“bearer wrinkle”) isn’t known as the Terror Bird only because that’s much easier to pronounce; this prehistoric bird must have been plenty scary to the small mammals it preyed on, considering its large size, clawed wings, and heavy, crushing beak. Extrapolating from the behavior of a similar (but much smaller) relative, Kelenken, some experts believe the Terror Bird grabbed its quivering lunch with its talons, then bashed it repeatedly on the ground to kill it.
One of the amusing facts about Phorusrhacos is that this prehistoric bird has gone by an unusually large number of now-outmoded or reassigned names, including Darwinornis, Titanornis, Stereornis and Liornis. As for the name that stuck, that was bestowed by a fossil hunter who assumed (from the size of the bones) that he was dealing with a megafauna mammal, and not a bird—hence the lack of the tell-tale “ornis” (Greek for “bird”) at the end of the Terror Bird’s genus name.

The terror bird, Phorusrhacos (1887)

Phylum : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Cariamiformes
Family : Phorusrhacidae
Genus : Phorusrhacos
Species : P. longissimus

  • Early/middle Miocene (12 Ma)
  • 2,5 m tall and 130 kg (size)
  • South America (map)

Phorusracos (“bearer wrinkle”) isn’t known as the Terror Bird only because that’s much easier to pronounce; this prehistoric bird must have been plenty scary to the small mammals it preyed on, considering its large size, clawed wings, and heavy, crushing beak. Extrapolating from the behavior of a similar (but much smaller) relative, Kelenken, some experts believe the Terror Bird grabbed its quivering lunch with its talons, then bashed it repeatedly on the ground to kill it.

One of the amusing facts about Phorusrhacos is that this prehistoric bird has gone by an unusually large number of now-outmoded or reassigned names, including Darwinornis, Titanornis, Stereornis and Liornis. As for the name that stuck, that was bestowed by a fossil hunter who assumed (from the size of the bones) that he was dealing with a megafauna mammal, and not a bird—hence the lack of the tell-tale “ornis” (Greek for “bird”) at the end of the Terror Bird’s genus name.

Notes

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