Biologist Shells Out For Extinct Giant Bird's Egg

Kedleston Road campus 504x257 Biologist Shells Out For Extinct Giant Bird's Egg

Date posted: 30 July 2013

The egg of a long extinct giant bird is the latest cracking teaching aid to be acquired by the University of Derby.

The flightless elephant bird of Madagascar, which could grow to 11 feet tall and looked like a heavily built ostrich, was the world's largest bird until it became extinct in the 17th Century. It also holds the record for the world's largest egg - usually over a foot long from end-to-end and around 100 times the size of a chicken egg.

An undamaged elephant bird's egg sold for £66,675 at auction at Christie's in London in April this year. Now a similar, reassembled egg has been acquired by the University of Derby's Biology Department, as a teaching aid.

Graham Rowe, Programme Leader for Biology, sourced the egg for the University. It was found in the south of Madagascar and, although elephant birds survived until the 17th century, this one is much older, believed to be around 20,000 years old.

Madagascar is a former French colony and the University's egg was obtained from a specialist dealer in France. BBC presenter Sir David Attenborough also owns a reconstructed elephant bird's egg, built from shell fragments collected whilst filming in the former colony in 1961.

Graham said: "I was shocked by the size of the box shipped over to the University from France. Our bubble-wrapped egg had been buried amongst about 100 tightly packed empty Evian mineral water bottles. You wouldn't want something like this breaking again, after the obvious care with which someone has at one time glued the egg back together.

"It's amazing to think that you can hold in your hand the egg of what was once the largest feathered bird on Earth, more than 300 years after it became extinct.

"The University occasionally acquires these sorts of exhibits, as they are great teaching aids to instil that kind of wonder in our science degree students and in the schools' parties we have regularly visiting us. Of course, at £300 our egg cost only a small fraction of what the Christie's one sold for."

Graham added: "To see such an object in real life rather than in a book or on a screen makes Biology teaching at Derby come alive".

For further media information about this press release please contact Sean Kirby, University of Derby Press and PR Officer, on 01332 591891 or email:

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