Vorompatra

(a.k.a. Aepyornis; Elephant Bird; Vouroupatra/Vouron Patra)

an artist's conceptionThe largest bird known to science, the Vorompatra (Aepyornis maximus) roamed the woodlands, marshes, and sand dunes of Madagascar until its relatively recent extinction. The bird laid the largest eggs known to have ever existed; these eggs may have inspired tales of the mythical elephant-lifting bird, the Roc (or Rukh) of the Arabian Nights. Man arrived on Madagascar about two millennia ago; hunting, egg predation, and gradual loss of habitat to agriculture all probably contributed to the demise of this ten foot tall, half-ton avian wonder.

Did Vorompatra really look like this picture? No one knows for sure. Perhaps he looked more like the images on you can see on this page.

Vorompatra was a ratite, a bird which could not fly because its breast bone had no keel (the term derives from ratis, Latin for "raft"). This "keel" serves to anchor the strong musculature other birds need for powered flight. Flightless birds evolved early in the Cenozoic Era, when the departure of their dinosaur ancestors cleared the stage for the evolution of new megafauna--mammals and birds were free to move into the niches so long occupied by the "Terrible Lizards". Other ratites are still found throughout the southern hemisphere; this circumstance gave rise to the "traditional" theory that these birds originated on the former continent of Gondwana, but the lack of key supporting evidence for this idea calls it into question.

"Vorompatra" (VOO-room-patch: "marsh bird") is the modern Malagasy name for this bird; it was rendered vouronpatra by the French, since they called the shots on that island in the colonial period. The scientific name is Aepyornis maximus (ee-pee-OR-nis MAX-ih-muss: Græco-Latin for "largest tall bird"). However, some references list the bird as Aepyornis titan ("titanic tall bird"?) The source of the epithet "Elephant Bird" is uncertain, but appears to date from a mention by Marco Polo; it may derive from the large size of the bird, or from the partial skeletal remains which were erroneously identified as belonging to extinct pachyderms. Additionally, it suggests the fabled abilities of the Roc, although this may be entirely coincidental.

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This website is dedicated to the Vorompatra. I hope my effort will be a useful resource, an assemblage of on-line references pertaining to the subject. Many of the links contained herein are not of my making; they were chosen to illustrate and inform, and for that I thank their respective webmasters. Constructive suggestions, corrections, and comments about this website are welcome-- Chip

Last Update: 12 April 2005 Copyright © 1999-2005
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