Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives

Land of the chonky birds: How and why did New Zealand have so many feathered giants?

Nic Rawlence May 31, 2021

The eastern moa is stuck fast in the swamp, its thick legs having punched through the peat into the liquid blue clay beneath. Death is inevitable, whether from starvation or from above. Unable to move, the moa can only eat what it can reach around it, if anything. The forests that covered this area during warmer times are … Read More

Lost in translation or deliberate falsification?

Nic Rawlence Apr 26, 2021

I’m staring at an evolutionary tree of New Zealand wrens when ‘damn it Travers’ rings out. The infamous Victorian collector Henry Hamersley Travers had just struck again. In front of me also are the delicate historical skins of some of these tiny wrens, frozen in time since the day they were collected. While some are still with us like the … Read More

Climate refugee or hardy local? Solving a botanical mystery

Nic Rawlence Mar 17, 2021

I’m deep in the middle of the Kā Tiritiri o te Moana Southern Alps with Michael Knapp collecting beech leaves and ripping apart rotting logs on the hunt for giant collembola. Some 17 years later, these precious beech samples would allow Michael and I to answer one of the longest-running debates in New Zealand botany. When Polynesians arrived on … Read More

Aotearoa: Land of the long or short chronology

Guest Author Aug 15, 2019

Lachie Scarsbrook “See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me. And no one knows how far it goes”. If you’ve seen Disney’s Moana, like me you probably just sung those first few lines whilst picturing a traditional double-hulled canoe sailing out into the sunny, blue abyss. Discovering new lands: a modern reconstruction of a … Read More

Proposal to mine fossil-rich site in New Zealand sparks campaign to protect it

Nic Rawlence Jun 17, 2019

An Australian company’s application to mine a fossil-rich site in the south of New Zealand has been met with fierce criticism and a campaign to protect it in perpetuity. Foulden Maar, near Dunedin, is arguably the most important terrestrial fossil site in New Zealand. It comprises a complete ecosystem. This makes it one of the most important … Read More

How to make a flightless bird

Nic Rawlence May 13, 2019

Visit any major museum in Aotearoa New Zealand and you will see a giant moa skeleton on display. The first thing you notice, apart from its enormous size, is the complete lack of wing bones. The answer to how the tūpuna of moa arrived on our shores and subsequently lost their wings has been one of New Zealand’s greatest evolutionary … Read More

From the mists of time: the enduring mystery of the adzebills

Nic Rawlence Mar 07, 2019

As a kid, I remember visiting Canterbury Museum with my Dad. I was fascinated and terrified in equal measure by the giant moa skeleton in the entrance, just as my four-year-old is today. But what really interested me was the much smaller, but not less diminutive, skeleton of an extinct adzebill. The adzebills were built like tanks. They … Read More