Paleontologists may study the distant past, but their world remains fresh and exciting. Every year, they discover new fossils, broadening the horizons of prehistory and scientific understanding. One 2014 discovery - or rather, rediscovery - revealed an enormous and terrifying bird that existed more than 20 million years ago.
Pelagornis sandersi, the largest flying bird ever discovered, appears to have been a massive and voracious predator, with pointed teeth and a 24-foot wingspan. As it glided over the ocean, smaller creatures would have desperately sought refuge from its gigantic jaws.
Pelagornis is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating fossils ever found. This super-bird and its remains are simultaneously odd, frightening, and impressive.
Its Wingspan Reached Over 20 Feet
The apparent size of Pelagornis was quite shocking to the researchers who studied its fossils. Its maximum 24-foot wingspan is so massive, they wondered how it could have possibly flown at all. The animal would have "rivaled the size of a Harrier jump jet" and had more than twice the wingspan of the largest modern flying bird.
It Likely Snatched Its Prey While Gliding Over The Ocean
Pelagornis almost certainly found its meals in the water. While gliding over the sea, the monstrous bird would likely have sought out fish and squid near the surface of the water. Once it spotted a target, it would have quickly swooped down and snatched it with its large beak before returning to the sky.
Its Body Was Only 6 Feet Long
It Mostly Glided Through The Sky
The secret behind the massive Pelagornis' flight appears to have been gliding. Rather than flapping its wings and steering through its own power, Pelagornis likely relied on ocean air currents to keep it aloft. The warmer, larger oceans of the time period provided a significant advantage.