|Figure 1. Skull of Andalgalornis steulleti (FMNH P1435).|
Andalgalornis steulleti is a member of an extinct group of large, flightless birds known as phorusrhacids. This group were predominatly a South American radiation of gruiform birds from the middle to lower Paleocene and are most closely related to extant seriemas. Phorusrhacids are called "terror birds" due to their gigantic body sizes, large skulls, and carnivorous lifestyles. The members of this group were ground predators or scavengers that were likely apex predators that dominated their environment in the absence of large carnivorous mammals. A. steulleti lived approximately 6 million years ago in Argentina, it weighed about 40kg, stood 1.4m high, and had a skull length of 370mm. This large, rigid skull was capped with a hawk-like hooked, yet curiously hollow, beak. The feeding behavior of these birds has only been speculated at up till now. This new study performed a biomechanical analysis of the skull using comparative anatomy and engineering (Finite Element Analysis [FEA]) to predict the behavior of the skull. Basically, they looked at the skull itself, compared it to other skulls, and ran it though a CT scanner for analysis.
|Figure 2. Stress (Von Mises) distribution of FE models.|
Here's the article:
Degrange, Federico J., Claudia P. Tambussi, Karen Moreno, Lawrence M. Witmer, and Stephen Wroe. (2010) Mechanical Analysis of Feeding Behavior in the Extinct 'Terror Bird' Andalgalornis steulleti (Gruiformes: Phorusrhacidae). PLoS ONE: 5(8), e11856. (DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011856)