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October 7, 2007

F - The Flightless Goan

by sven at 8:00 am

Reprinted with permission from Professor Ichbonnsen's Monster Month blog.

[click to enlarge]

The Flightless Goan is a carnivorous, desert-dwelling bird found in the Mexican state of Coahuila. It is exceptionally fast, and has remarkably keen eyesight.

Standing at two feet tall, Goan hunt small and medium-sized game such as rabbit and coyote. Hunting is often done in groups of 2-4 animals. Their razor-sharp beaks rapidly slice prey into ribbons.

The birds have a distinctive cry -- "moh!" -- which they shriek whenever running. When they pause, the cry stops. It is a curious experience to hear the animal as it stops and starts: Moh! Stop. Moh! Stop. Moh!

Goan, it is believed, are a pygmy version of the quasi-mythical Giant Roc -- a bird allegedly capable of carrying off fully grown elephants in its claws. Recent evidence suggests that such a species genuinely did exist at one point in time, but that it went extinct long before the appearance of Homo Sapiens. The Giant Roc in European and Middle-Eastern mythology -- and the Thunder Bird in Native American folklore -- most probably emerged out of humans' attempts to explain fossil remains.

In essence, the Giant Roc seems to have been a cross between the Pterodactyl and the Archaeopteryx (the earliest known bird) -- but larger than either. It is doubtful that even the largest Giant Roc could have lifted an elephant; prey approximately the size of oxen, however, were not out of the question. Such great birds must have depended upon the existence of huge herds of prey to survive. We can guess that they were very territorial, and that due to this, successful mating was rare.

Given the immensity of their drain on the ecosystem, no one bioregion could support Giant Rocs indefinitely. As food became too sparse, mutations resulting in smaller birds were advantageous. Based on skeletal evidence, it is almost certain that today's Flightless Goan is a direct descendant of the avian megafauna. Indeed, fundamental similarities between the Goan and the Roc are so profound, some have suggested that it is only a matter of time before a random mutation in the Goan genome leads to the rebirth of Giant Rocs in the modern world.

Our collection of fossilized birds is too scanty at present to prove anything -- but perhaps over long periods of time we are seeing a cycle between the pygmy- and giant-sized version of a single bird species. If so, the phenomena would lend new credence to myths about the Phoenix that is reborn from its own ashes.

posted by sven | October 7, 2007 8:00 AM | categories: bestiary