The tiniest part of the brain of the so-called “elephant bird,” the biggest extinct bird to date, with about 3.3-meter height, which was processing the sight, suggests that the before-mentioned species was nocturnally and potentially blind. It is the result of brain reconstruction study carried out by the University of Texas at Austin in the United States.
Nightlife is a feature that is shared by the closest living cousin of the “elephant bird,” the kiwi, a virtually blind New Zealander species, and a hint that allows researchers to find out more about the behavior and environment of ancient “elephant birds,” according to Christopher Torres, the Ph.D. fellow conducting the investigation, which was featured in “Proceedings of the Royal Society B.”
“Studying the shape of the brain is a really useful way to connect ecology (the relationship between the bird and the environment) and anatomy,” Torres says, who was aided in his research by Professor Julia Clarke from the UT Jackson School of Geosciences.
Elephant birds were nocturnal species and possibly blind
Researchers had earlier presumed that “elephant birds” were like other large, non-flying birds species like emus or ostriches, all of which are physically active during the day and have excellent eyesight during the night. However, Torres and Clarke have found that the so-called “elephant birds” possessed significantly different lifestyles. They reached that conclusion by reconstructing the brains of those huge ancient birds.
“No one has suspected that elephant birds were nocturnal,” said Torres. On the other hand, Clarke said that she “was surprised that the visual system was so small in such a large bird.”
In the skulls of “elephant birds,” the optic lobe, a collection of brain nerves that regulate sight sense, was very tiny. According to Torres, the optic lobe in “elephant birds” is quite similar to the one in kiwi birds, indicating that the latter might be the direct descendants of the ancient elephant birds.
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