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The giant moa (Dinornis) is an extinct genus of birds belonging to the moa family. Like all moas, it was a member of the order Dinornithiformes. It was endemic to New Zealand. Two species of Dinornis are considered valid, Dinornis novaezealandiae of the North Island, and Dinornis robustus of the South. In addition, two further species (new lineage A and lineage B) have been suggested based on distinct DNA lineages.[2]

Dinornis maximus, Natural History Museum (PV A 608).jpg
D. novaezealandiae, Natural History Museum of London
Extinct  (c.1500)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Dinornithiformes
Family: Dinornithidae
Genus: Dinornis
(Owen, 1843)[1]

D. novaezealandiae North Island Giant Moa
D. robustus South Island Giant Moa

  • Dinoris (lapsus)
  • Megalornis Owen, 1843 non Gray, 1841: preoccupied, nomen nudum
  • Moa Reichenbach, 1850
  • Movia Reichenbach, 1850
  • Owenia Gray, 1855
  • Palapteryx Owen, 1851
  • Tylopteryx Hutton, 1891



D. robustus skeleton
D. struthoides skeleton, now known to be a male Dinornis, not a distinct species

Dinornis may have been the tallest bird that ever lived, with the females of the largest species standing 3.6 m (12 ft) tall,[3] and one of the most massive, weighing 230–240 kg (510–530 lb)[4] or 278 kg (613 lb)[5] in various estimates. Feather remains are reddish brown and hair-like, and apparently covered most of the body except the lower legs and most of the head (plus a small portion of the neck below the head). The feet were large and powerful, and the birds had a long neck that allowed them to reach tall vegetation. In relation to its body, the head was small, with a pointed, short, flat and somewhat curved beak.

Sexual dimorphism

It has been long suspected that several species of moa constituted males and females, respectively. This has been confirmed by analysis for sex-specific genetic markers of DNA extracted from bone material.[6] For example, prior to 2003 there were three species of Dinornis recognised: South Island giant moa (D. robustus ), North Island giant moa (D. novaezealandiae) and slender moa (D. struthioides). However, DNA showed that all D. struthioides were in fact males, and all D. robustus were females. Therefore, the three species of Dinornis were reclassified as two species, one each formerly occurring on New Zealand's North Island (D. novaezealandiae) and South Island (D. robustus );[6][7] robustus however, comprises three distinct genetic lineages and may eventually be classified as many species. Dinornis seems to have had the most pronounced sexual dimorphism of all moa, with females being up to 150% as tall and 280% as heavy as males.


The cladogram below follows a 2009 analysis by Bunce et al.:[7]


Dinornis robustus

Dinornis novaezealandiae


Megalapteryx didinus


Pachyornis australis


Pachyornis elephantopus

Pachyornis geranoides


Anomalopteryx didiformis


Emeus crassus

Euryapteryx curtus


Prior to the arrival of humans, the giant moa had an ecologically stable population in New Zealand for at least 40,000 years.[8] The giant moa, along with other moa genera, were wiped out by Polynesian settlers,[8] who hunted it for food. All taxa in this genus were extinct by 1500 in New Zealand. It is generally accepted that the Māori still hunted them at the beginning of the fifteenth century, although some models suggest extinction had already taken place by the middle of the 14th century.[9] Although some birds became extinct due to farming, for which the forests were cut and burned down and the ground was turned into arable land, the giant moa had been extinct for 300 years prior to the arrival of European settlers.[10]


Specific citations
  1. ^ Checklist Committee Ornithological Society of New Zealand (2010). "Checklist-of-Birds of New Zealand, Norfolk and Macquarie Islands and the Ross Dependency, Antarctica" (PDF). Te Papa Press. Retrieved 4 January 2016.
  2. ^ Baker, A. J.; Huynen, L. J.; Haddrath, O.; Millar, C. D.; Lambert, D. M. (2005). "Reconstructing the tempo and mode of evolution in an extinct clade of birds with ancient DNA: The giant moas of New Zealand". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 102 (23): 8257–62. Bibcode:2005PNAS..102.8257B. doi:10.1073/pnas.0409435102. PMC 1149408. PMID 15928096.
  3. ^ Wood, Gerald (1983)
  4. ^ Amadon, D. (1947)
  5. ^ Campbell Jr., K. & Marcus, L. (1992)
  6. ^ a b Huynen, L. J.,et al. (2003)
  7. ^ a b Bunce, M.; Worthy, T. H.; Phillips, M. J.; Holdaway, R. N.; Willerslev, E.; Haile, J.; Shapiro, B.; Scofield, R. P.; Drummond, A.; Kamp, P. J. J.; Cooper, A. (2009). "The evolutionary history of the extinct ratite moa and New Zealand Neogene paleogeography". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 106 (49): 20646–51. Bibcode:2009PNAS..10620646B. doi:10.1073/pnas.0906660106. PMC 2791642. PMID 19923428.
  8. ^ a b "Giant Moa Had Climate Change Figured out". ScienceDaily. August 3, 2012. Retrieved 2012-08-06.
  9. ^ Holdaway, R. N.; Jacomb, C. (2000). "Rapid Extinction of the Moas (Aves: Dinornithiformes): Model, Test, and Implications". Science. 287 (5461): 2250–2254. Bibcode:2000Sci...287.2250H. doi:10.1126/science.287.5461.2250. PMID 10731144.
  10. ^ Perry, G. L.; Wheeler, A. B.; Wood, J. R.; Wilmshurst, J. M. (2014). "A high-precision chronology for the rapid extinction of New Zealand moa (Aves, Dinornithiformes)". Quaternary Science Reviews. 105: 126–135. Bibcode:2014QSRv..105..126P. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2014.09.025.
General references
Amadon, D. (1947). "An estimated weight of the largest known bird". Condor. 49 (4): 159–164. doi:10.2307/1364110. JSTOR 1364110.
Baker, Allan J.; Huynen, Leon J.; Haddrath, Oliver; Millar, Craig D.; Lambert, David M. (2005). "Reconstructing the tempo and mode of evolution in an extinct clade of birds with ancient DNA: The giant moas of New Zealand" (PDF). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 102 (23): 8257–8262. Bibcode:2005PNAS..102.8257B. doi:10.1073/pnas.0409435102. PMC 1149408. PMID 15928096. Retrieved Feb 14, 2011.
Benes, Josef (1979). Prehistoric Animals and Plants. London, UK: Hamlyn. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-600-30341-1.
Bunce, Michael; Worthy, Trevor H.; Ford, Tom; Hoppitt, Will; Willerslev, Eske; Drummond, Alexei; Cooper, Alan (2003). "Extreme reversed sexual size dimorphism in the extinct New Zealand moa Dinornis". Nature. 425 (6954): 172–175. Bibcode:2003Natur.425..172B. doi:10.1038/nature01871. PMID 12968178.
Campbell, Jr., K. E.; Marcus, L. (1992). "The relationship of hindlimb bone dimensions to body weight in birds". Papers in Avian Paleontology Honoring Pierce Brodkorb. Science (36): 395–412.
Huynen, Leon J.; Millar, Craig D.; Scofield, R. P.; Lambert, David M. (2003). "Nuclear DNA sequences detect species limits in ancient moa". Nature. 425 (6954): 175–178. Bibcode:2003Natur.425..175H. doi:10.1038/nature01838. PMID 12968179.
Owen, Richard (1843). "On the remains of Dinornis, an extinct gigantic struthious bird". Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London: 8–10, 144–146.
Wood, Gerald (1983). The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats (3rd ed.). Sterling Publishing Company Inc. ISBN 978-0-85112-235-9.

External links