A new painting depicts prehistoric vultures and eagles from Australia in a gruesome manner.
Ancient birds of prey feast on the carcass of a giant wombat-like creature; a committee of vultures waits its turn while a huge eagle feeds strips of bloody flesh to its chick.
Researchers from Flinders University have uncovered additional information about the Pleistocene-era raptors, which has been depicted in a stunning and graphic painting.
The sole vulture species found in Australia is Cryptogyps lacertosus, while the recently found eagle is Dynatoaetus pachyosteus.
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The researchers discovered that the vulture possessed less advanced traits than previously believed and did not possess the ability to soar like modern-day vultures. They also determined that the vulture existed around 60,000 years ago, which is later than previous estimations.
The eagle discovered by scientists lived approximately 500,000 years ago and was the second largest eagle, after Dynatoaetus gaffae, which resided on the Australian continent.
The weight of the vulture was likely around 6kg, while the eagle could have potentially weighed up to 12kg.
The team, led by Dr. Ellen Mather, who previously discovered D. gaffae, published their findings in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology on Friday.
Mather described a scenario where these magnificent birds are vying for food in the southern regions of Australia, which were once dominated by large creatures like the Diprotodon optatum and the Thylacoleo carnifex, also known as the ‘marsupial lion’.
“This new eagle species, Dynatoaetus pachyosteus, would have been similar in wingspan to a wedge-tailed eagle, now Australia’s largest living eagle of prey, but its bones seem much more robust – especially its leg bones, suggesting it was even more powerful and heavily built.
“This genus (Dynatoaetus) was endemic to Australia, meaning it was found nowhere else in the world.
“After discovering two species and determining that this genus is not closely related to any eagles outside of Australia, we propose that this group of raptors has been present in Australia for a significant period of time, rather than recently arriving.”
A portion of the vulture’s skeletal remains were discovered in the Fossil Cave, previously known as the Green Waterhole, in the Tantanoola area of South Australia. The bones of the eagle were also found in the Victoria Fossil Cave in Naracoorte.
Using his expertise in fossils from the region, along with his observations of present-day avian species, naturalist and artist John Barrie analyzed the recent data and pieced together a depiction of an ancient scene in Naracoorte.
The article in the journal featured the researcher’s work.
Barrie included information about other animals and plants that were probably present in the region during that period. He noted, “There is a Diprotodon in the middle, being attacked by predatory birds tearing it apart. So you can see its ribs and innards, it’s quite gruesome.”
The vulture was a selective eater compared to the eagle. They would carefully pick at the carcasses to consume every bit of flesh. However, they stayed away when larger predators were present. The smaller vultures patiently waited for their chance to feed.
The painting also depicts crows, a Tasmanian devil, and a lizard, and other elements suggest a drier environment.
“There’s a waterhole, a lagoon that’s dried up with a bird running across leaving footprints; there’s bracken underneath a dying tree,” he said. “There are probably 50 different species of plants I could name that I used.”
Australia’s megafauna, which included Diprotodon and giant goannas and kangaroos, still roamed the country 40,000 years ago, before environmental changes made them extinct. The Flinders University researchers found the megafauna’s extinction could have, in turn, played a role in the end of the vulture and the eagles.