Be Grateful These Demon Ducks of Doom No Longer Call South Australia Home

Be Grateful These Demon Ducks of Doom No Longer Call South Australia Home
Illustration of Genyornis newtoni being hunted by a giant lizard is Australia about 50.000 years ago. Image: Peter Trusler, Monash University

Scientists have identified the ancient animal behind a collection of prehistoric eggs discovered in South Australia some 40 years ago. It turns out that it was the Demon Ducks of Doom all along.

The Demon Ducks of Doom, you say? Sounds like supervillian stuff, if you ask me, but it’s actually the slang term applied to duck-like megafauna that once roamed Australia.

The eggs in question were being studied by the University of Copenhagen. By analysing proteins from the eggshells, those found in sand dunes at two parts of South Australia some 40 years ago at Walleroo and Woodpoint, scientists were able to determine it came from those pesky Demon Ducks.

The researchers explored the structure of the examined proteins by pulverising them with bleach. Using artificial intelligence, and by sequencing the proteins into the right orders, researchers were able to compare the eggs to over 350 living bird species.

“We are thrilled to have conducted an interdisciplinary study in which we used protein sequence analysis to shed light on animal evolution,” said University of Copenhagen professor Matthew Collins.

“However, our analysis of protein sequences from the eggs clearly shows that the eggshells cannot come from megapodes and the Progura bird,” added Josefin Stiller, an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen’s department of Biology.

The study led the researchers to believe that the eggs could only come from the Genyornis newtoni species specifically… The last of the Demon Ducks of Doom. The research resolves years of controversy surrounding where the 50,000 year old eggs came from.

demon ducks of doom
To the right an emu-egg and to the left the egg, that the researchers believe originates from the Demon Duck of Doom, Genyornis newtoni. The latter egg weighs about 1.5 kilograms which is more than 20 times the weight of an average chicken egg. Image: Trevor Worthy

The Demon Ducks of Doom: Write this down, Hollywood

So, what is a Demon Duck? Many thousands of years ago, giant ducks roamed the Earth, the size of (and often bigger than) the emu that we know and love today. We broadly call these animals the Demon Ducks of Doom.

demon ducks of doom
A large femur from Genyornis newtoni (left) and on your right a somewhat smaller femur from an emu. Image: Trevor Worthy

In Australia, the Demon Duck offshoot Genyornis newtoni, the latest Demon Duck recorded before going extinct, roamed the Earth some 65,000 years ago, alongside First Peoples. These birds would have been two metres tall, 200kg heavy with giant beaks. Their eggs weighed about 1.5kg, about 20 times more than the average chicken egg.

Long live the Demon Ducks. Gone too soon.

You can read the study in PNAS.