Abstract

Eggshell fragments attributed to large birds have been known from the Palaeogene of southern France for half a century, but reconstructing their original dimensions and identifying the birds that laid the eggs has been fraught with difficulties. On the basis of numerous newly collected specimens and using geometrical calculations, the original size of the thick-shelled eggs is reconstructed, showing that they were slightly larger than ostrich eggs, with a greatest length of 17.8 cm and a mean diameter of 12.0 cm in transversal section. The estimated volume is 1330.4 cm3. The fossil eggs from southern France are thus among the largest known avian eggs, being only surpassed by Aepyornis and some moas. Estimated egg mass is about 1.4 kg. On the basis of egg mass, the body mass of the parent bird is estimated at between 135.4 kg and 156.4 kg, assuming that the hatchlings were precocial. These calculations are in good agreement with the dimensions and mass estimates for the Palaeogene giant bird Gastornis, a probable anseriform, which lived in Europe at the time the eggs were laid. Other large Early Tertiary birds from Europe (Remiornis, Palaeotis) are too small to have laid these eggs. In all likelihood, the large eggs from the Palaeogene of southern France were laid by gastornithid birds.

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