Remains of gigantic prehistoric condor discovered in Argentina

4 Jul 2019

Replica of the giant condor. Image: CTyS of the National University of La Matanza

Argentinian palaeontologists have uncovered the remains of an enormous condor that dwarfs the current largest variety, the Andean condor.

The skies above the land we now know as Argentina were once home to a bird that would have been an impressive sight to humans, but a nightmare for small creatures. A team from the Paleontological Museum of San Pedro – a city located a few hours from Buenos Aires – announced the discovery of an extinct, gigantic condor that once lived 10,000 years ago.

With a wingspan of 3.5 metres, the bird – which has yet to be named – would have shadowed over the current largest known condor, the Andean condor, which has a wingspan of three metres. The weight of the giant condor would have been somewhere between 18kg and 20kg, while the Andean condor weighs between 12kg and 15kg.

Dr Federico Agnolin, a researcher at the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences, Félix de Azara Foundation and CONICET, said that it was “an exceptional finding, since it is the record of a new species of giant bird that flew over the province of Buenos Aires at the end of the Pleistocene”.

He added: “The ulna and radius found, belonging to the right wing, are much more robust than the Vultur gryphus, popularly known as the Andean condor. So we estimate that its body mass was much higher, although the study has just begun.”

Discovery of possible prey

The location proved ideal for the creature’s discovery as rain that occurs there cuts into the ground, enabling researchers to observe ancient sediments from the Lujanenese Age.

It is believed the condor would have lived alongside other scavenger birds such as giant caranchos, vultures and jotes. Since birds have hollow bones, there are very few remains preserved, adding to the importance of this discovery.

Speaking with the agency CTyS of the National University of La Matanza, Agnolin said that remains of other creatures were found alongside the bird, including the upper jaw of a very small piglet and the pelvis of a turtle. These animals could have been part of the giant condor’s diet.

“We hope to confirm it when they finish analysing the remains under the microscope,” Agnolin said. “We see that the surface of the remains of the [piglet] and the turtle differs in appearance with that of the bones of the condor, which is why we believe that it has been eroded by the gastric juices of the bird.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic