The Big Egg Hunt

(April 2nd, 2015) A group of scientists makes an unexpected discovery on Easter Island. Is there a new member sitting on a side branch of the avian family tree?

The Easter Island is still full of mysteries and surprises. Recently, a group of scientists, led by zoologist Ernest Bunnyway from Uovo University, discovered a new bird species in remote corners in the northern part of the island. Hidden between juicy blades of grass, Bunnyway and Co. found a nest with eggs, tinted in all colours of the rainbow (pictured right): blue eggs, red eggs, green eggs, eggs with stripes, zigzag lines or dots - unlimited varieties. “We had been strolling around the same area in the north for weeks, at some point we even got lost,” Bunnyway reveals to Lab Times. “But then we suddenly saw this bird, running away from its nest. It was so quick, we couldn’t take a picture. When we approached the nest, however, we couldn’t believe our eyes. None of us had ever seen such a colourful clutch.”

Unlike its eggs, the bird itself looked remarkably unremarkable. Its brown, soft plumage almost looked like fur; the animal is medium-sized, had meaty feet and a short beak – “not unlike a chicken”, Bunnyway commented. Despite its close resemblance to chickens, the scientists believe, the new species, which they christened Tangata manu, as a reference to the birdman cult, practiced on the Island until the 19th century, is a representative of a new bird family, the Easteridae.

Back in their base camp in Hanga Roa, the scientists began work on the species’ description. Expedition participant and ethnologist, Birdy Egglestone talked to a few natives and they told him that they use the multi-coloured eggs for certain ritual ceremonies, which mostly take place in the spring. “One native reported, every spring-time they send out their kids to search for and collect a few of the most beautiful specimens. When they return, the eggs are boiled and eaten as part of a big family event.” This cult has been practiced for hundreds of years.

The evolutionary meaning behind the flashy appearance of the eggs is still unresolved. Bunnyway suspects some cunning, deceptive strategies or confusion tactics. More research is, of course, necessary to come to a satisfying conclusion. “Soon, we will head up north again and maybe this time we are fast enough to catch a specimen,” Bunnyway says. The plan is to get some DNA and work out Tangata manu’s phylogenetic relationships once and for all. This analysis will, according to the scientists, take about one year.

In the meantime, Lab Times wishes their readers Happy Easter.

Kathleen Gransalke

Photo: Fotolia/Jenny Sturm

Last Changes: 05.12.2015