Great Elephant Bird egg
The elephant birds were a large, flightless group of birds that evolved in isolation, largely free from predators, on the island of Madagascar. They were rarities, like the Ostrich, Rhea, Emu, Cassowary and Kiwi.
Three species of elephant birds are currently recognised: Aepyornis hildebrandti, A. medius and A. maximus. The largest of these, known as the Great Elephant Bird (A. maximus), stood three to four metres high and has been estimated to have weighed 450 kilograms. The elephant birds became extinct around 1642 due largely to the introduction of predators such as pigs, which ate the chicks and destroyed eggs, and from hunting pressure by humans.
The egg of the Great Elephant Bird is thought to be the largest known egg in the world, and has a greater volume than eggs of any of the largest of the non-avian dinosaurs. The eggs measured 89 centimetres in the long circumference and 30 centimetres in length, and had a volume equal to nine litresequivalent to 15 dozen chickens’ eggs.
Eggshell fragments of elephant birds are still commonly found in coastal sand dunes of southern Madagascar. Intact eggs are extremely rare. The bones of elephant birds are also sometimes found in coastal peat deposits. The fossil record of the elephant birds is confined to the past 2 million years. The novelist H.G. Wells, who trained as an anatomist, wrote about the elephant bird in a short story titled ‘Aepyornis Island’ (1894). The provenance of the Great Elephant Bird’s egg at the museum is unknown.