The upland moa (Megalapteryx didinus) was a species of moa bird endemic to New Zealand. It was a member of the ratite family, a type of flightless bird with no keel on the sternum. It was the last moa species to become extinct, vanishing around 1500 AD.
At less than 1 meter tall and about 17 to 34 kilograms, the upland moa was among the smallest of the moa species. Unlike other moas, it had feathers covering all of its body but the beak and the soles of its feet, an adaptation to its cold environment. Scientists believed in the past that the upland moa held its neck and head upright; however, it actually carried itself in a stooped posture with its head level to its back.This would have helped it travel through the abundant vegetation in its habitat, whereas an extended neck would have been more suited to open spaces. It had no wings or tail.
Distribution and habitat
The upland moa lived only on New Zealand's South Island, in mountains and subalpine regions. They traveled to elevations as high as 2000 m (7000 ft).
Behavior and ecology
The upland moa was herbivorous, its diet extrapolated from fossilized stomach contents, droppings, and the structure of its beak and crop. It ate leaves and small twigs, using its beak to "shear[…]with scissor-like moves" (Te Papa Museum). Its food required grinding before it could be digested, as indicated by its large crop. A 2004 study of the upland moa's coprolite provided evidence that branchlets of trees such as Nothofagus, various lake-edge herbs, and tussock made up part of its diet. This moa usually laid only 1 to 2 blue-green colored eggs at once. Like the emu and ostrich, male moa cared for the young. The upland moa's only predator before the arrival of humans in New Zealand was the Haast's eagle.
Humans first came in contact with the upland moa around 1250 to 1300 AD, when the Māori people arrived in New Zealand from Polynesia. Moa, a docile animal, were an easy source of food for the Māori and were eventually hunted to extinction in 1500.
Several specimens with soft tissue and feather remains are known:
Canterbury Museum NZ 1725, Remains of one partial egg which have been found at the Rakaia River in 1971 are tentatively attributed to this species. The radiocarbon date of approximately AD 1300–1400 is in line with this. Unusually, the eggshell is dark olive green, but even if the egg is of M. didinus, the shell color may have varied between individual eggs.
^Baker, A. J.; Huynen, L. J.; Haddrath, O.; Millar, C. D.; Lambert, D. M. (2005). "Reconstructing the tempo and mode of evolution in an extinct clade of birds with ancient DNA: The giant moas of New Zealand". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences102 (23): 8257. doi:10.1073/pnas.0409435102.edit
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