The bird's toe was found on Ellesmere Island in northern Canada.
A massive, flightless bird that lived more than 50 million years ago has been discovered in the Arctic.
Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and the University of Colorado Boulder have examined a toe bone discovered on Ellesmere Island in northern Canada belong to an ancient creature called Gastornis, according to a Discovery News report.
The researchers compared the toe bone they found with those of other bird fossils in other parts of the world and found that it matched another Gastornis specimen from Wyoming and elsewhere. Surprisingly, there seemed to be almost no difference between the fossils despite the fact that they were found so far apart, and in seemingly different climates.
The bird would have been huge, standing about 6 feet tall and with a head the size of a horse. The bird ate an entirely vegetarian diet, using its massive beak to eat nuts, seeds, and fruit.
Ellesmere Island wouldn’t be able to support such an animal today, as it can drop to minus 40 degrees in the winter, but 53 million years ago when it lived, its climate probably resembled that of Florida.
“We knew there were a few bird fossils from up there, but we also knew they were extremely rare,” CU-Boulder Associate Professor Jaelyn Eberle of geological sciences said in a statement.
The study has major implications for research into climate change, Eberle added.
“Permanent Arctic ice, which has been around for millennia, is on track to disappear,” she said. “I’m not suggesting there will be a return of alligators and giant tortoises to Ellesmere Island any time soon. But what we know about past warm intervals in the Arctic can give us a much better idea about what to expect in terms of changing plant and animal populations there in the future.”