Giant stork turns up on the island where evolution went haywire

FOSSILS of a giant stork have been discovered on an Indonesian island that has been home to many extreme-sized creatures - from tiny human-like "hobbits" and dwarf elephants to the world's largest-known rats and lizards.

Naturalists Hanneke Meijer and Rokus Due have discovered the leg bones from a marabou stork, which lived 20,000 to 50,000 years ago, that indicate the creature stood around six feet tall and weighed up to 35 pounds.

The bones were found during excavations of the Liang Bua cave in the west of the island of Flores at a depth of around 15 feet.

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Flores, located at the eastern extreme of Indonesia, has never been connected to another island or mainland, and this has shaped the evolution of its wildlife. With no mammalian carnivores, birds and reptiles have faced less competition for food, which accounts for some of the massive sizes.

Even today, rats more than 16 inches from head to tail can be found on Flores. It is also home to Komodo dragons, the largest lizards on earth, which grow to be anything up to ten feet long, and can weigh as much as 150 pounds. At the same time, food scarcities, as compared to on the continent, may have contributed to reduced sizes of elephants and others.

Most famously, the bones of a four foot high human species, popularly known as the "hobbit," or Homo floresiensis, which survived until around 17,000 years ago, were also found on the island.

Meijer, a palaeontologist from the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden, the Netherlands, and Due, from the National Archaeological Research Centre in Jakarta, noted that their stork "must have towered over the tiny H. floresiensis".