Here’s something you don’t see very often…
This illustration (by Peter Trusler) shows the large Pleistocene Cuban owl Ornimegalonyx oteroi battling with a solenodon. Ornimegalonyx has been mentioned here a few times before (use the search bar), but nothing substantive, sorry. Most sources mention O. oteroi as if it’s the only named species of Ornimegalonyx. Actually, Arredondo (1982) named three additional ones: O. minor, O. gigas and O. acevedoi. And, by the way, the Ornimegalonyx owls weren’t the only big owls on Pleistocene Cuba – there was also a particularly big eagle owl (Bubo osvaldoi Arredondo & Olson, 1994) and the two large barn owls Tyto noeli Arredondo, 1972 and T. riveroi Arredondo, 1972 (Arredondo & Olson 1994). There were a diversity of smaller owls too.
Typical factoids usually given about O. oteroi are that its remains were initially misidentified as those of a phorusrhacid (see Brodkorb (1961)), that it was over a metre tall, that it had notably robust hindlimbs, and that it was probably flightless and cursorial.
“Over a metre” might be too much, but might not: it comes from the 1.1 m height estimated by Arredondo (1976). The adjacent illustration, found online (
sorry, I can’t find the artist’s name owl – but not human soldier – by Satoshi Kawasaki), shows how insanely big such an owl would really have been. What.. really? Wow. Like many people, my first encounter with this animal was actually with a very inaccurate and rather strange reconstruction published on a Cuban stamp in 1982 (see below). Anyway, the claim of flightlessness might not be correct: Mike Habib, some-time frequenter of Tet Zoo, has mentioned in-progress work on the flight abilities of this and other giant owls, and Storrs Olson – often quoted as saying that these owls had a reduced flight ability – is also on record as saying “I rather imagine that these birds could fly or glide to some extent” (Olson 1978, p. 106). Olson even noted the possibility that “it may have taken very little flying ability to capture juvenile ground sloths, which this great owl was fully large enough to do” (p. 106). The idea of giant, ground-hunting running owls is undeniably incredible and I wish there were substantive studies that backed it up (I don’t think there are, alas).
I’m disappearing for a little while soon. Have inadvertently been the focus of all too much media attention over the last few days: somehow the news on the Ashdown maniraptoran seeped into the mainstream and everyone wanted a piece.
For previous articles on owls, please see…
- Titan-hawks and other super-raptors (discusses giant Gargano barn owls)
- Why do some owls have ear tufts?
- From Morocco, with larks, babblers, gazelles, owls and GIANT DINOSAUR BONES
- Fish owls in reverse
- Chock-full of rodent bones
- Myth of the six-foot super-owl
- Why can’t my readers be dumber? Or: replica owls
Refs – –
Arredondo, O. (1976). The great predatory birds of the Pleistocene of Cuba Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology, 27, 169-187
– . 1982. Los Strigiformes fósiles del pleistoceno cubano. Boletín de la Sociedad Venezolana de Ciencias Naturales 140, 33-55.
– . & Olson, S. L. 1994. A new species of the genus Bubo from the Pleistocene of Cuba (Aves: Strigiformes). Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 107, 436-444.
Brodkorb, P. 1961. Recently described birds and mammals from Cuban caves. Journal of Paleontology 35, 633-635.
Olson, S. L. 1978. A paleontological perspective of West Indian birds and mammals. Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, Special Publication 13, 99-117.