Stork that ate babies, rather than delivering them

The fossilised bones of a giant stork big enough to devour human babies has been found on the Indonesian island of Flores, home of the miniature "hobbit" people who lived there more than 18,000 years ago.

The giant marabou stork grew up to 6ft tall, weighed 35lbs and would have towered over the adult hobbits, who were just 3ft tall. Although there was no evidence that it preyed on the tiny humans, scientists believe that it may well have dined on juvenile hobbits.

Bones of the stork, called Leptoptilos robustus, were unearthed from the floor of the Liang Bua cave, the same site where the bones of the hobbit, Homo floresiensis, were uncovered. Scientists believe that the stork may have lost its ability to fly, judging by the size and weight of its bones.

Hanneke Meijer, an expert in extinct bird species, made the discovery on a trip to Jakarta where the bones from the Ling Bua cave are kept in the national museum. "These big bones immediately stood out from the rest because of their large size," Dr Meijer said. "They clearly belonged to some big bird. I thought they must have belonged to a big raptor, such as a really big eagle, but to my surprise, when I was able to study them in more detail, I realised they were from a marabou stork. The leg bones are so thick, it must have spent much of its time on the ground."

Other than the human hobbits, who probably arrived on the island on boats, there were no large mammalian predators such as wolves or big cats on Flores at the time. This allowed many species to grow bigger, such as the stork and the giant rats that lived at the same time as the hobbits. "We think the stork moved into the position of being a top predator," Dr Meijer added. "It would have probably fed on the giant rats and even juvenile hobbits, which were the same size as the rats."

The giant stork most probably evolved from smaller storks that had flown to the island and, over time, lost the ability to fly away. The geographic isolation of Flores allowed the evolution of bizarre species, such as dwarf elephants, giant komodo dragons and miniature humans. Tests on the sediment around the bones suggest that the stork lived between 20,000 and 50,000 years ago. The hobbits were believed to have lived in isolation on the island for tens of thousand of years then vanished after a giant volcanic eruption about 17,000 years ago.

Despite its large size, the Flores stork was not the biggest to have existed; an even bigger flying stork once lived in what is now India.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn