The Recently Extinct Plants and Animals Database

Aepyornis maximus Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1851:104

Giant elephant bird



Taxonomy & Nomenclature

Synonym/s: Aepornis maximus Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1851:104; Aepyornis medius Milne-Edwards and Grandidier, 1869:97


Conservation Status


Last record: Holocene


It is generally believed that Aepyornis maximus was the last surviving of the family Aepyornithidae (genera Aepyornis, Mullerornis and the newly described Vorombe). Étienne de Flacourt, the first French Governor of Madagascar, may have seen the bird in 1658, although it is equally plausible to suggest that he was relying upon another source for his account (Fuller, 1988).





Biology & Ecology




WAM 93.9.1. (the "Cervantes egg")






Original scientific description:

Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, I. (1851). Note sur des ossements et des oeufs trouvés à Madagascar, dans des alluvions modernes, et provenant d'un oiseau gigantesque. Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences (Paris) 32(4):101-107.


Other references:

Amadon, Dean. (1947). An estimated weight of the largest known bird. The Condor 49(4): 159-164.

Ando T; Mukoyama H; Yoshida A; Akishinonomiya F; Yamagishi S. (2004). Chemical identification of brownish stain adhered to the eggshell surface of extinct Elephantbird, Aepyornis, from Madagascar. J. Yamashina Inst. Ornithol. 35: 203-206.

Andrews, C. W. (1896). On the skull, sternum, and shoulder-girdle of Æpyornis. Ibis 38: 376-389.

Angst, Delphine and Buffetaut, Eric. (Due October 2017). Palaeobiology of Extinct Giant Flightless Birds. ISTE Press.

Balanoff, Amy M. and Rowe, Timothy. (2007). Osteological Description of an Embryonic Skeleton of the Extinct Elephant Bird, Aepyornis (Palaeognathae: Ratitae).  Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 27(supp. 4): 1-53. [Abstract]

Bianconi, G. G. (1865). Recherches sur les os de l'Epiornis maximus. Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences (Paris) 60: 179-180.

Bianconi, G. G. (1870). Recherches sur les affinités naturelles de l'Æepyornis. Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences (Paris) 70:162-163.

Bradbury, W. C. (1919). Some notes on the egg of Aepyornis maximus. Condor 21(3): 97-101.

Brodkorb, Pierce. (1963). Catalogue of fossil birds. Part 1 (Archaeopterygiformes through Ardeiformes). Bulletin of the Florida State Museum, Biological Sciences 7, 4: 179-293.

Buffetaut, Eric. (2019). Early illustrations of Aepyornis eggs (1851-1887): from popular science to Marco Polo’s roc bird. Anthropozoologica 54 (12): 111-121.

Buffetaut E, Audibert C, Tabouelle J, Angst D. (2019). Useful old casts: a comment on Hansford & Turvey (2018), ‘Unexpected diversity within the extinct elephant birds (Aves: Aepyornithidae)’. R. Soc. open sci. 6: 181826.

Burney, D. A. et al. (1997). Environmental change, extinct and human activity: Evidence from caves in NW  Madagascar. Journal of Biogeography 24(6): 755-767.

Clarke, Simon J. (2005). Isoleucine epimerisation and stable isotope ratio studies of cassowary, megapode and aepyornis eggshells: biogeochemical and palaeonenvironmental implications, PhD thesis, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong.

Clarke, Simon J. et al. (2006). The amino acid and stable isotope biogeochemistry of elephant bird (Aepyornis) eggshells from southern Madagascar. Quaternary Science Reviews 25(17-18): 2343-2356. [Abstract]

Dames, W. 1886. Über Aepyornis. Sitzungsberichte der Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde Zur Berlin 6:69. [relevant citation?]

Dewar, R. E. (1984). Recent Extinctions in Madagascar: The Loss of the Subfossil Fauna, pp. 574-593. In: Martin, P. S. and Klein, R. G. (eds.). Quaternary Extinctions: A Prehistoric Revolution. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Dimmick, Ade. (1999). Bestiary: the Rukh. Animals & Men 19: 19.

Duvernay, G.-L. (1854). [Note sur l'Epyornis]. Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences (Paris) 39:836-837.

Endo, H. et al. (2012). Coxa Morphologically Adapted to Large Egg in Aepyornithid Species Compared with Various Palaeognaths. Anatomia Histologia Embryologia 41(1): 31-40. [Abstract]

Flacourt, Étienne de. (1658). Histoire de la Grande Isle Madagascar. Paris.

Fuller, Errol. (1988). Extinct Birds. New York: Facts on File Publications. 256 pp.

Goodman, Steven M. (1994). Description of a new species of subfossil eagle from Madagascar: Stephanoaetus (Aves: Falconiformes) from the deposits of Ampasambazimba. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 107(3): 421-428.

Goodman, S. M. (1999). Holocene bird subfossils from the sites of Ampasambazimba, Antsirabe and Ampoza, Madagascar:Changes in the avifauna of south central Madagascar over the past few millennia. In: Adams, N.J. & Slotow, R.H. (eds) Proc. 22 Int. Ornithol. Congr., Durban: 3071-3083. Johannesburg: BirdLife South Africa.

Grandidier, A. (1868). Observations on the egg-beds of Aepyornis. Ibis NS4: 65-68.

Grandidier, G. 1903. Le plus grand oiseau connu. L'"Aepyornis ingens" de Madagascar. La Nature 31(2):215-218.

Grandidier, G. 1903. Note au sujet du squelette de l'Aepyornis ingens. Bulletin du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle 9:318-323.

Grealy, Alicia et al. (In Press, 2017). Eggshell palaeogenomics: Palaeognath evolutionary history revealed through ancient nuclear and mitochondrial DNA from Madagascan elephant bird (Aepyornis sp.) eggshell. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. [Abstract]

Hansford, James et al. (2018). Early Holocene human presence in Madagascar evidenced by exploitation of avian megafauna. Science Advances 4(9): [pagination?]. [Abstract]

Hansford, James P. and Turvey, Samuel T. (2018). Unexpected diversity within the extinct elephant birds (Aves: Aepyornithidae) and a new identity for the world's largest bird. R. Soc. open sci. 5: 181295.

Hansford, James P. et al. (2018). Early Holocene human presence in Madagascar evidenced by exploitation of avian megafauna. Science Advances 4(9): eaat6925.

Hume, Julian Pender and Walters, Michael. (2012). Extinct Birds. London: T & AD Poyser.

Iredale, Tom. (1924). As extinct as the Dodo. The Australian Museum Magazine 2(4): 117-120.

Lambrecht, Kàlmàn. (1933). Handbuch der Palaeornithologie. Gebrüder Borntraeger, Berlin. 1024 pp.

Le Floch-Prigent, Patrice Pierre, Gillot, Jean-Bernard and Verdeille, Stéphane. (2017). Seriated CT-scan of an egg in Aepornis maximus (Madagascar) and reconstructions. The FASEB Journal 31(1): Supplement 579.3. [Abstract]

Long, J. A. (1993). Eggstraordinary finds from Western Australia. Australian Natural History 24(7): 6-7.

Long, J. A., Vickers-Rich, Patricia, Hirsch, K., Bray, E. and Tuniz, C. (1998). The Cervantes egg: an early Malagasy tourist to Australia. Records of the Western Australian Museum 19(1): 39-46.

MacPhee, R. D. E. and Marx, P. A. (1997). The 40,000 year plague: humans, hyperdisease, and first-contact extinctions., pp. 169-217. In: Goodman, Steve M. and Patterson, B. D. Natural change and human impact in Madagascar. London & Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Mahe, J. (1972). The Malagasy subfossils. ln: Battistini R & G Richard-Vindard (eds) Biogeography and Ecology in Madagascar. Dr. W Junk, The Hague: 339-365.

Megiser, H. (1623). Warhafftige ... so wol Historische als Chorographische Beschreibung der ... Insul Madagascar, sonsten S. Laurentii genandt (etc.). Leipzig: Groß.

Midgley, J. J. and Illing, N. (2009). Were Malagasy Uncarina fruits dispersed by the extinct elephant bird. South African Journal of Science 105: 467-469.

Milne-Edwards, A. and Grandidier, A. (1894). Observations sur les Aepyornis de Madagascar. Comptes Rendus Hebdomadaires des Séances de l'Académie des Sciences 118: 122-127.

Mlíkovský, Jiří. (2003). Eggs of extinct aepyornithids (Aves: Aepyornithidae) of Madagascar: size and taxonomic identity. Sylvia 39: 133-138.

Kieren J. Mitchell, Bastien Llamas, Julien Soubrier, Nicolas J. Rawlence, Trevor H. Worthy, Jamie Wood, Michael S. Y. Lee, Alan Cooper. Ancient DNA reveals elephant birds and kiwi are sister taxa and clarifies ratite bird evolution. Science, 2014 DOI: 10.1126/science.1251981

Monnier, L. (1913). Paléontologie de Madagascar. VIL LesAepyornis. Ann. Paléontol. 8: 125-172.

Mory, A. J. (1994). Geology of the Hill River-Green head 1:200,000 sheet. Geological Survey of Western Australia, Explanatory Notes: 1-29.

Oskam, Charlotte L. et al. (2010). Fossil avian eggshell preserves ancient DNA. Proc. R. Soc. B DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2009.2019

Rakotozafy, L. M. A. and Goodman, S. M. (2005). Contribution à l’étude zooarchéologique de la région du Sud-ouest et extrême Sud de Madagascar sur la base des collections de l’ICMAA de l’Université d’Antananarivo. Taloha, numéro 14-15,

Ricqlès, Armand de, Bourdon, Estelle, Legendre, Lucas J. and Cubo, Jorge. (In Press, 2015). Preliminary assessment of bone histology in the extinct elephant bird Aepyornis (Aves, Palaeognathae) from Madagascar / Examen préliminaire de l’histologie osseuse de l’oiseau-éléphant éteint Aepyornis (Aves, Palaeognathae) de Madagascar. Comptes Rendus Palevol. doi:10.1016/j.crpv.2015.01.003 [Abstract]

Rowley, G. D. (1864). A paper upon the egg of Aepyornis maximus, the colossal bird of Madagascar. London: Trübner and Co.

Torres, Christopher R. and Clarke, Julia A. (2018). Nocturnal giants: evolution of the sensory ecology in elephant birds and other palaeognaths inferred from digital brain reconstructions. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2018.1540 [Abstract]

Worthy, Trevor H. (2009). Fossil Birds. In: Gillespie, R., Clague, D. (eds.). Encyclopedia of Islands. Encyclopedias of the Natural World, No. 2. University of California Press.

Worthy, T. H. and Holdaway, R. N. (2002). The Lost World of the Moa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


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