The iconic flightless kiwi bird, a national symbol of New Zealand, may actually have evolved from an Australian ancestor, according to new research.
Experts have long assumed that the bird, whose name is now synonymous with the people of the country, came from the equally endemic but now extinct giant moa.
Yet fossils have now been found in the South Island which appear to contradict that theory. Dating back 20 million years to an ancestor of the modern kiwi, they appear to be much more closely related to another large flightless bird – the Australian emu.
Experts from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, have analysed the remains and said it is now more likely that both the emu and kiwi share a common ancestor who could fly – and travelled over to New Zealand at some point millions of years ago.
The findings have been published by the Society of Avian Paleontology and Evolution.
Palaeontologist Trevor Worthy, himself an expatriate New Zealander living in Australia, told the AFP news agency: “If, as the DNA suggests, the kiwi is related to the emu, then both shared a common ancestor that could fly.
“It means they were little and volant (able to fly) and that they flew to New Zealand.”
Dr Worthy added that while it was not uncommon for bird species to “jump” from Australia to New Zealand, the research was not conclusive.
“We need to find wing bones to put the theory beyond all doubt,” he said.
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