Imagine looking up to the sky and seeing a bird with a 24 foot wingspan and bony teeth projecting from its mouth. This dragon-like bird was common 25 million years ago, and Daniel Ksepka of the Bruce Museum identified this creature that now takes the title for the largest ever flying bird in history.
"The curator at the Charleston Museum Albert Sanders, was the curator at the time but has since retired, works on whales primarily. He invited me to study some birds that he had and I was quite interested because they com from an important time period in earth's history. However, I was not aware that the largest bird in the world was in one of these drawers, so when he pulled it out, I was blown away. It was a surprise," said Kspeka.
Ksepka studied the fossils, and estimated the dimensions of the giant bird.
"The name was Pelagornis sandersi and it had the largest wingspan of any bird that ever lived. We are talking about 6.4 meters, 20 and 24 feet. This would have just been an enormous animal," Ksepka said.
The size made the bird clumsy on land, and although it could fly, it needed a little help getting airborne.
"In order for this animal to launch, it would have needed to take advantage of things like wind or some type of elevation," said Ksepka.
It's ability to fly thousands of kilometers at a time over open water is the reason why Ksepka was able to study the well preserved fossils.
"In order to be preserved, these bones had to sink to the bottom of the ocean. They are found in marine deposits and covered with this calcarious sand. The animal died in the open ocean and luckily sank to the bottom of the ocean before a shark or something destroyed the carcass. It was covered up and sat there for about 25 million years until it was exposed again during construction at the Charleston Airport," Ksepka said.
The fossils are now on display at the Charleston Museum.