History has not been kind to the elephant bird of Madagascar. Standing nearly 10 feet tall and weighing up to 1,000 pounds — or so researchers believed — this flightless cousin of the ostrich went extinct in the 17th century, thanks in part to humans stealing their massive eggs, either to feed their families or to repurpose as giant rum flasks. More recently, the bird’s designation as the heaviest in history was challenged by the discovery of the slightly larger, unrelated Dromornis stirtoni, an extinct Australian flightless giant. But researchers say that a member of a previously unidentified genus of the birds could have weighed more than 1,700 pounds, making it by far the largest bird ever known. Paleontologist James Hansford named the species and genus Vorombe titan; vorombe is a Malagasy word meaning “big bird.”
All-female termite societies are found
Termites are often dismissed as nothing but home-destroying pests. But they have been doing incredible things since the time of dinosaurs, maintaining complex societies, farming fungus and building cathedrals that circulate air the way human lungs do. Now, add “overthrowing the patriarchy” to that list. In a study published in BMC Biology, scientists reported the first discovery of all-female termite societies. Genetic analyses suggested that the asexual termites, which have an extra chromosome, evolved from ancestors that split from other Glyptotermes nakajimai termites around 14 million years ago.