Tracks from a creature thought to be the extinct giant bird Diatryma suggest it was not a ferocious carnivore, but rather a gentle herbivore.
Due to its size at 7 feet (2.13 meters) tall with a massive head and beak, Diatryma was originally thought to be a predator.
However, a new U.S. study of footprints made between 55.8 and 48.6 million years ago in what is now Washington state show that no raptor-like claws were present.
“[The tracks] clearly show that the animals did not have long talons, but rather short toenails,” said study co-author David Tucker at Western Washington University (WWU), according to BBC Nature.
“This argues against an animal that catches prey and uses claws to hold it down. Carnivorous birds all have sharp, long talons.”
Fossil specimens of the bird show that it had fairly short legs, suggesting it could not have run fast enough to catch prey.
Also, other research has revealed that it did not have a hooked beak, as seen in raptors, for gripping and tearing up flesh.
“A more likely scenario [than being a carnivore] would be a gentle Diatryma that used its beak to harvest foliage, fruits, and seeds from the subtropical forests that it inhabited,” study co-author George Mustoe, also at WWU, told BBC Nature.
The findings were published in Palaeontology on Nov. 14.
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