Discover animals from the amazing gallery space and exhibition, “Wild Planet”. Earth is home, but it’s not just ours. Parading for you in Wild Planet are around 400 of the amazing animal species we share our planet with. How are they connected? What’s our impact on their future? And how do they benefit us?All species, both living and extinct, are connected. We are all on the Tree of Life. Wild Planet is dedicated to the exploration of that tree, from joining the dots on our collective ancestral histories, to the importance of biodiversity, to the fates of extinct creatures.
Galápagos Giant Tortoise Geochelone elephantopus
This species is the largest living tortoise and can weigh up to 250 kilograms. It’s also one of the longest-lived vertebrates, with a life span in the wild of over 100 years. In fact, one captive individual reached at least 170.
The Galápagos Islands were discovered in the 16th century by Spanish explorers who named them after their word for tortoise, galápago. Within the archipelago, up to 15 subspecies of Galapagos Tortoises have been recognised historically, although only 11 subspecies survive to this day.
Southern Gastric Brooding Frog Rheobatrachus silus
This amazing frog was only discovered in the 1970s. However, it mysteriously disappeared only a decade later, possibly due to disease.
Females of the species were ‘gastric brooders’, which means they swallow their fertilised eggs and allow them to develop in their stomachs. During this time, the female’s digestive process would shut down. After about six or seven weeks, up to 25 baby frogs would emerge through the female’s mouth. Four days later the female’s digestive tract would return to normal.
Lampreys are part of a group of primitive jawless fishes – a group from which it’s thought all jawed vertebrates evolved. Lampreys’ mouths are modified into an oral disc with numerous small horny teeth. They have an anadromous life cycle, which means they generally live in the ocean (where they parasitise other fishes) but swim to fresh water to spawn. They are called the Pouch Lamprey as breeding males have an enlarged pouch on the underside of the head.
Lord Howe Island Stick Insect Dryococelus australis
This flightless and nocturnal stick insect was once abundant on Lord Howe Island (a small island in the Pacific Ocean, about 730 kilometres north-east of Sydney). However, the introduction of rats to the island in 1918 caused the stick insect’s extinction by 1935.
In 1967, Dr David McAlpine rediscovered the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect after seeing a specimen in a photograph taken on Balls Pyramid with actual specimens collected in 1969.
Australian Lungfish Neoceratodus forsteri
Lungfishes first appeared in the fossil record around 380 million years ago. They are relics of ancient fish groups that were related to the ancestors of amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.
The Australian Lungfish has a single lung, whereas all other species of lungfishes had paired lungs. Under most conditions, this species breathes exclusively using its gills. However, during dry periods when streams become stagnant, they have the ability to surface and breathe air.
Thylacine Thylacinus cynocephalus
The Tasmanian Tiger looks like a dog, but it is actually a thylacine – a carnivorous marsupial closely related to a kangaroo. Both male and female Thylacines have pouches – unlike most other marsupials.
The Tasmanian Tiger was once widespread across Australia, but is now believed to be extinct. Its population on the mainland was wiped out due to competition with the dingo, which was introduced about 3000 years ago. The Tiger survived in the wild in Tasmania until the 1930s, and the last known specimen died, tragically, in captivity in 1936.
Dodo Raphus cucullatus
The Dodo is perhaps one of the world’s most famous extinct animals. This flightless bird was only found on the island of Mauritius, where it was first recorded by Dutch sailors in 1598. It was extinct in well under 100 years, the victim of human hunting, habitat depletion and competition with introduced species.
We don’t know exactly what the Dodo looked like. No complete specimen survives in any museum collection and the 17th century drawings and paintings vary considerably in size, shape and colour.
Native to Australia’s arid interior, this species lives in grasslands, emerging at night to feed on seeds and plants. By day, it hides within spinifex grasses or dense bushes. Subdued plumage in desert tones of yellow, green, brown and black perfectly camouflage the bird.
The Night Parrot is one of Australia’s rarest birds and has been a figure of ornithological mystery since first being described by John Gould in 1861.
The Rufous Hare-wallaby or Mala is now extinct on mainland Australia; the last wild populations disappeared in the 1980s and early 1990s due to drought, wildfire and fox predation.
Rufous Hare-wallaby populations only remain on two Western Australian islands and inside predator-proof enclosures. To the indigenous people of Central Australia, Mala were an important food source and are a significant mythological symbol.
Rufous Bettongs are the largest member of the Potoroid family, the closest relatives of kangaroos and wallabies.
They are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) and rest during the day in shallow nests covered with vegetation. Bettongs use their prehensile tails to grasp and carry nesting material during construction. To avoid predators, they make nests in up to five different locations.
The Short-beaked Echidna is Australia’s most widely distributed terrestrial mammal, and one of only five monotreme (egg-laying) mammal species in the world.
The scientific name Tachyglossus means ‘swift tongue’ which these echidnas use to feed on ants, termites, earthworms, beetles and moth larvae.
This species of long-beaked echidna was once widely distributed in south-eastern Australia and has been extinct for over 10,000 years. Megalibgwilia was large and robust, weighing about 10 kilograms.
Several fine skulls of this echidna have been found in cave deposits at Naracoorte, South Australia.
Platypuses live in freshwater bodies and streams. They are well adapted to the aquatic environment having webbed feet, dense waterproof fur, and a soft bill containing electroreceptors that pick up electrical signals emitted by their invertebrate prey.
Male Platypuses have a sharp, venomous spur on each ankle to jab rivals – and anyone quick enough to catch them – particularly in the breeding season.
Obdurodon dicksoni was a large, spoon-billed platypus from the Riversleigh area of northern Australia. Its skull is one of the most perfect fossils known from the area. Older Obdurodon species are known from central Australia.
Obdurodon probably fed on insect larvae, yabbies and other crustaceans, and perhaps small vertebrates such as frogs and fish.
Unlike the living Platypus, these fossil platypuses had functional molar teeth.
Lord Howe Island Horned Turtle
This huge horned turtle grew up to two metres long and lived on Lord Howe Island, a small, forested island off the coast of New South Wales.
Its skull was covered in bony bumps and the two large horns prevented it from retracting its head into its shell. Its long tail had a row of spikes near the end.
Fossil ammonite Simbirskites nepaulensis
Ammonites were a type of marine cephalopod mollusc, a group that today includes octopuses, cuttlefish and squid. They first appeared in the Devonian period, over 400 million years ago, and were widespread in the Mesozoic era until their extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period about 66 million years ago. Many other life forms also became extinct at this time, including the non-avian (or non-bird) dinosaurs.
Upper Jurassic, 163–145 million years ago, Papua New Guinea
Fossil trilobite Paradoxides carens
Trilobites were one of the first arthropods (invertebrates with exoskeletons and jointed limbs), appearing in the oceans about 521 million years ago. They were extremely common – over 17,000 species have been described, ranging in length from about 3 millimetres to 70 centimetres. The last of the trilobites died out in the Permian mass extinction about 250 million years ago.
The name ‘trilobite’ comes from the structure of the body. Three lobes can clearly be seen on the fossil – a central raised lobe with two flattened lobes on either side. Mid Cambrian, 515 million years ago, Czech Republic
Stromatolites were one of the earliest multi-cellular life forms to appear on Earth. This type of stromatolite was made by cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that formed sticky mats in shallow waters. Sediment in the water stuck to the mats and built up layers over time. Eventually these layers formed mounds we call stromatolites.
Living marine stromatolites can be seen in a few sheltered locations including Shark Bay in Western Australia.
Precambrian, 800 million years ago, Northern Territory, Australia
West Indian Ocean Coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae
Coelacanths are quite different from all other living fishes. They have an extra lobe on the tail, paired lobed fins and a vertebral column that is not fully developed. They grow to about two metres in length and weigh up to 100kgs.
Coelacanths are known from the fossil record, dating back over 360 million years. They were believed to have become extinct about 80 million years ago. This changed when a fisherman caught a live coelacanth off the coast of South Africa in 1938. This find is considered one of the best zoological finds of the century.
Atlantic Horseshoe Crab Limulus polyphemus
The Atlantic Horseshoe Crab is one of four living species of horseshoe crab – the only remaining members of the Xiphosura, one of the oldest groups of marine arthropods. Despite the name, horseshoe crabs are more closely related to arachnids like spiders, ticks and scorpions than they are to crabs.
Horseshoe crabs have a copper-based blood that contains a substance called Limulus amebocyte lysate. This substance coagulates when in contact with small amounts of bacterial toxins and is used in the medical industry to test if medical equipment is sterile and to detect bacterial diseases.
Horseshoe Crab Limulus polyphemus
Horseshoe crabs have changed little in appearance since they first appeared around 450 million years ago and are a good example of a ‘living fossil’.
One reason for their success is their armour, which hasn’t changed for hundreds of millions of years. The hard, curved plates protect the soft bodies of the crabs and make it difficult for predators to knock them over and expose their less protected underbellies. Horseshoe crabs are also able to regrow lost limbs.
The Tuatara may look like a lizard but it belongs to its own reptile group Rhynchocephalia. This group flourished during the Mesozoic but only the Tuatara survives today – a living relic from the age of dinosaurs, uniquely representing 225 million years of evolutionary heritage. It’s now only found on islands around New Zealand as mainland populations disappeared over a century ago due to land clearing, and hunting by humans and feral animals.
Colobus monkeys spend all their time in the treetops of dense African forests. They have no thumbs and elongated fingers that can form a hook to facilitate swinging through the branches.
Some colobus populations are threatened by deforestation and hunting for their attractive skins and for bushmeat. The King Colobus is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ as its population has declined over 30 per cent in the past 30 years.
Mountain Pygmy Possum Burramys parvus
The Mountain Pygmy Possum was for over 70 years known only as a fossil before being discovered as a living species. It’s unique among marsupials in being confined to the Australian Alps.
It hibernates for up to seven months each winter beneath the snow in a nest constructed among boulders. It’s mostly terrestrial and nocturnal, feeding on invertebrates, seeds and fruit. Fewer than 3000 Mountain Pygmy Possums remain, all found within an area of less than six square kilometres.
Although commonly thought to be largely inactive due to their low quality eucalypt diet, Koalas regularly move between trees at night to find food or a mate.
The Koala’s closest relatives are the wombats; these groups shared a common ancestor around 30 million years ago. The modern koala is now the sole remaining species of an ancient and diverse family, with the fossil record suggesting that up to 18 koala-like species previously existed across Australia.
Short-beaked Echidna Tachyglossus aculeatus
The Short-beaked Echidna is Australia’s most widely distributed terrestrial mammal, and one of only five monotreme (egg-laying) mammal species in the world.
Echidnas have short strong limbs and are great diggers. Their front feet have flattened claws that can shovel through leaf litter and their hind feet point backwards to push material away. When threatened Short-beaked Echidnas quickly dig into the ground, protecting all their soft parts and leaving only their sharp quills exposed.
Closely related to the two other ‘anthill parrots’ (Golden-shouldered Parrot P. chrysopterygius and extinct Paradise Parrot P. pulcherrimus), Hooded Parrots excavate nesting chambers inside termite mounds. Moth eggs laid within the nest hatch alongside the parrot eggs. The larvae feed on waste from the parrot chicks and pupate just before the parrot chicks leave the nest.
This is one of the world’s most critically endangered species with fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild.
Orange-bellied Parrots are unusual parrots in that they are migratory, travelling from their winter foraging sites in salt marshes of Victoria and South Australia to breed in tree hollows in the south-west wilderness of Tasmania.
Noisy Scrub-bird Atrichornis clamosus
There are just two species in the genus Atrichornis and both the Noisy Scrub-bird and its sister species, the Rufous Scrub-bird, were uplisted from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’ in 2014.
Like their nearest relatives, the Lyrebirds, Noisy Scrub-birds are poor fliers, remaining airborne for only a few metres. They are particularly vulnerable to bushfires, partly due to their poor flying ability, but also because fires destroy the specific habitat (dense vegetation with small open pockets) that they need to thrive. A combination of habitat and fire management and the translocation of wild populations to new habitats saw the population grow to about 1500 breeding birds. Unfortunately, this fell to about 1000 after a series of wildfires.
Aardvarks are most closely related to elephants, despite their pig-like appearance, rabbit-like ears and kangaroo-like tail. They are nocturnal termite eaters and can consume up to 50,000 termites a night!
Walrus Odobenus rosmarus
With males reaching over 3.5 metres in length and weighing up to 2000 kilograms, Walruses are among the world’s largest seals. Placed in a distinct family of mammals (Odobenidae) these highly social animals form tightly packed colonies that can number in the tens of thousands.
Walruses vary in colour depending on their activity. After long periods in cold water they appear pale grey but may turn pink or red when back on land as blood-flow to the skin increases. Their upper canine teeth form long ‘tusks’ used for aggressive displays, defence, making holes in ice and hauling themselves onto land.
Female (left) and male (right) South-eastern Petaltail Petalura gigantea
This giant dragonfly is one of the largest in the world. About 190 million years ago in the Jurassic, enormous dragonflies lived in swamps and bogs. Today, there are 10 surviving species almost unchanged in form and habit.
Giant dragonfly larvae hatch out of eggs laid around swamps and dig long burrows. They are semi-terrestrial, unlike other dragonflies, and roam the surface of the swamp at night or in wet weather in search of insects and other arthropods to eat. This larval stage may last over 10 years, whereas the adult stage only lasts one summer. Adults are surprisingly poor flyers and don’t range far from their swamp.
Red-headed or Pondicherry Vulture Sarcogyps calvus
The Red-headed Vulture is the only living representative of the genus Sarcogyps. Although it is distinct from the White-rumped Vulture (Gyps), it performs the same ecological service of disposing of animal remains, including those of humans.
It is threatened with extinction because it is susceptible to renal failure from feeding on carcasses of domestic animals treated with the anti-inflamatory drug diclofenac. Unlike the Gyps vultures which flock at carcasses, the Red-headed Vulture is a territorial species, and it’s possible it was previously shielded from diclofenac poisoning by being outcompeted by the more abundant Gyps vultures.
White-rumped Vulture Gyps bengalensis
This medium-sized vulture has suffered a catastrophic decline in numbers (99 per cent) over the past 20 years, having formerly been described as the most abundant large bird of prey in the world.
These vultures feed on carrion and are very sensitive to the veterinary anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac which is used to treat domestic livestock. Birds that feed on carcasses containing residues of this drug die from renal failure.
To stop the decline, veterinary diclofenac has now been banned in many countries within the species’ range. In addition, food supplies are being supplemented in ‘vulture restaurants’ as a component of ecotourism activities in countries such as Cambodia.
Isolated from other primates for over 88 million years, the lemurs of Madagascar have evolved into a vast array of species exploiting almost every primate niche. Brown Lemurs feed mainly on fruit, young leaves and flowers and are one of the few primates that willingly share food with other individuals.
Grey Crowned Crane Balearica regulorum
Tall, flamboyant and beautiful, Grey Crowned Cranes were once considered the same species as the more northern Black Crowned Cranes (Balaearica pavonina).
As with all cranes, graceful and spectacularly ballet-like dances form part of breeding and social displays. This species is listed as ‘Endangered’ because populations have rapidly declined during the past few decades due to habitat loss and the illegal removal of birds and eggs from the wild.
Gilbert’s Potoroo Potorous gilbertii
Gilbert’s Potoroo is one of Australia’s most endangered mammals. It was long thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered by chance in 1994 in Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve, Western Australia.
Gilbert’s Potoroo is mycophagous, which means its diet is almost entirely made up of truffles and other fungi. When digging to find truffles, potoroos turn over the soil, aerating it and allowing water and nutrients to accumulate in the resulting holes. As a consequence, potoroos are considered important ‘ecosystem engineers’ in the Australian environment.
Pangolins are unique among mammals as they are covered with scaled armour. When threatened they curl up into a tight ball. Also known as scaly anteaters, pangolins feed almost exclusively on ants and termites.
Black and White Ruffed Lemur
Like all lemurs, this luxuriously furred species is only found in Madagascar. Lemurs are primates and represent an early evolutionary offshoot of the primate family.
Ruffed Lemurs are diurnal, foraging during the day in the rainforest canopy for fruit, nectar and leaves. They frequently hang upside-down to reach favoured items. Ruffed Lemurs live in groups of 2 to16 individuals and are highly vocal, having loud raucous barking calls.
To survive freezing in the winter, Wood Frogs accumulate urea in their tissues and glucose in their blood. These act as a kind of anti-freeze, limiting the amount of ice that forms in the frog’s body and reducing cell shrinkage and tissue damage. Wood Frogs can survive many winter freeze and thaw events as long as no more than 65 per cent of their total body water freezes.
Distribution: Canada and parts of north-eastern USA
Red-crowned Toadlet Pseudophryne australis
The Red-crowned Toadlet is a small frog species, usually less than 30 millimetres long. It is dark brown, grey or black, with a distinctive reddish-orange triangle between the eyes and a variable stripe on the rump. Its belly is marbled black and white. This little frog is endemic to the Sydney Basin where it is only found in or near drainage lines and soaks near ridgetops. It occurs in small colonies and males can be heard calling most of the year. Eggs are laid in moist leaf litter and are washed by rainfall into nearby pools. Much of the tadpoles’ development can occur within the egg. The habitat of the Red-crowned Toadlet is under increasing pressure from urbanisation and pollution.
Distribution: Sydney Basin, Australia
Although strange to look at, this frog’s body shape helps it burrow forwards through sand, unlike most burrowing frogs that dig backwards. Their muscular limbs also help them break into termite mounds for food. Unusually, this species has no tadpole stage. Instead, eggs hatch directly into tiny frogs.
Distribution: Western Australia
Juvenile White-bellied Sea-eagle Haliaeetus leucogaster
Young eaglets are cared for by both parents in the nest for about two months before becoming adult-sized and fully feathered. They reach adult plumage and the characteristic white head, body and tail, and grey wings between four to five years.
Pairs are monogamous and mate for life, with one territory occupied by the same pair for more than 50 years. A pair will often engage in spectacular aerial displays as part of their courtship, including talon grappling, where talons are locked and the pair cartwheel downward. Adult White-bellied Sea-eagles are accomplished hunters. Their prey varies includes a wide variety of fish, mammals, birds, reptiles and crustaceans.
Vampire Flying Frog
This frog is named after the black ‘fangs’ of its tadpoles, which grow up in water-filled tree-holes. As food is scarce there, the female feeds her tadpoles her unfertilised eggs, which they eat using their fangs.
This species is only known from high-elevation cloud-forests of southern Vietnam and is threatened by habitat loss.
Distribution: southern Vietnam
Northern Corroboree Frog
Like many alpine-adapted animals, this species has a slow lifecycle and doesn’t reach sexual maturity until about three years of age. It is greener in colour compared to the Southern Corroboree Frog.
Distribution: ACT and New South Wales, Australia
Green and Golden Bell Frog
Many remaining populations of this frog, particularly in the Sydney region, inhabit areas such as golf courses, disused industrial land and brick pits (including the one at the Sydney 2000 Olympics site). Its range and abundance have declined severely since the 1960s due to habitat loss and degradation, pollution, introduced species and disease.
Distribution: coastal areas from northern New South Wales to East Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
Eastern Water Dragon
This dragon is named after its preferred habitat along creeks and rivers. Capable swimmers, they readily enter water to escape predators and can rest on the bottom for up to 90 minutes. Adult males have bolder colour and larger heads than females and grow to around a metre long. Although shy in the wild, this species has adapted to life in suburban parks and gardens.
Distribution: eastern Australia from Victoria to Queensland
Brazilian Porcupine Coendou prehensilis
The Brazilian or Tree Porcupine is a mid-sized rodent with a body covered in quills that are actually keratin-toughened, semi-hollow, modified hairs. In defence, they may curl up to present their quills, shake so their quills rattle, or release their quills so they imbed into a predator’s skin. Unlike its relatives, the Brazilian Porcupine is highly adapted to life in the trees with its prehensile tail and long grasping claws.
Distribution: northern, central and eastern South America
They may resemble hedgehogs and echidnas, but tenrecs share common ancestry with elephants, aardvarks and sea cows. Tenrecs are omnivorous, feeding primarily on insects but also plants. They hibernate in dry autumn months (May to September) when food resources are low. Females can have up to 36 young per litter, which is a mammal record!
Distribution: Madagascar and introduced to islands of the Comoros, Rèunion, Mauritius and the Seychelles
Ocelot Leopardus pardalis
The name ocelot comes from the Aztec word ōcēlōtl, which they used for the larger Jaguar and not the small cat that bears the name today. Ocelots, also known as painted leopards, are mostly nocturnal. They were revered by some cultures, particularly Peruvians, who often depicted them in art.
There are ten subspecies of ocelot. The species was once classified as ‘Vulnerable’, mainly because hundreds of thousands were killed for their valuable fur (which looks superficially like jaguar fur).
Distribution: from Mexico, through Central and South America to north-eastern Argentina and southern Brazil; remnant population north of the Rio Grande, USA
Lumholtz’s Tree-kangaroo Dendrolagus lumholtzi
Kangaroos living in trees sound so improbable that many assume they’re the product of the Australian sense of humour – along with drop bears! However, tree-kangaroos are real and inhabit the tropical forests of Australia and New Guinea. Lumholtz's Tree-kangaroo is the smallest species and is confined to the wet tropics of north-eastern Queensland. It spends most of its time in the rainforest canopy where it feeds on leaves of trees and vines, and epiphytes such as ferns and orchids. Its powerful limbs and strong, curved claws help it clamber around the canopy, with its long rope-like tail providing balance. Lumholtz's Tree-kangaroo is mostly solitary and both males and females are territorial.
Spotted-tailed Quoll Dasyurus maculatus
The Spotted-tailed Quoll (Tiger Quoll) is the largest and most arboreal (tree-dwelling) of the six quoll species, and is easily distinguished by the presence of white spots on both its body and tail. It is a carnivorous marsupial that preys on small and medium-sized animals at night, but is also known to be an opportunistic carrion feeder.
Quolls are seasonal breeders and males display lengthy courtships, at times severely biting the females. Females give birth to an average of five young after a short gestation period of 21 days. Young remain in the pouch for two months and become independent after 18 weeks.
Common Tiger Snake (eastern form)
Many thousands of Tiger Snakes were slaughtered in the 19th and early 20th centuries for their skins and to remove them from prime grazing country. Their numbers continued to decline as swamps and waterways were drained and diverted, destroying the habitat of the snake’s main food – frogs. Fortunately, Tiger Snakes produce large litters of 20 to 30 young per season.
Distribution: south-eastern Australia
Razor-billed Curassow Mitu tuberosa
Razor-billed Curassows are still reasonably common thanks to their large range. However, the remainder of their curassow relatives are not faring as well.
Hunting has been a large threat to most curassow species. Some, such as the Endangered Helmeted Curassow Pauxi pauxi, are hunted for food and for trophies – their heads are cut and kept for their impressively large crown and beak. Such threats have already pushed the Alagoas Curassow Mitu mitu to extinction in the wild. Two small captive populations are the only hope for this species’ survival.
Distribution: Amazonian rainforest areas of South America
Popular as caged birds, Zebra Finches breed readily in captivity and can be found in many aviaries. This species is also common and widespread throughout its range, occurring wherever there is access to good water and food, such as grass seeds and insects.
Distribution: Australia, Indonesia, Timor-Leste; introduced to Portugal and Puerto Rico
Bobcat Lynx rufus
The Bobcat, smallest of the four lynx species, is the most abundant wild cat in North America. It’s an agile hunter, able to chase prey at speeds of up to 50 kilometres an hour for short distances, but will also use hunting strategies such as stalking and ambushing. Like other wild cats, it preys on rodents, rabbits and hares, but will also hunt insects, fish, birds and small deer. Because of its preferred prey, the Bobcat is vital for controlling pest populations of small mammals.
Distribution: southern Canada, USA and Mexico
Marbled Velvet Gecko
This gecko is named after the velvety feel of its body scales, which are soft, smooth and uniform in size. Despite its delicate appearance, this gecko survives in some of the driest parts of the country and may go without food or water for several months, living off reserves in its plump tail.
Distribution: discontinuous band from central New South Wales to Western Australia
This colourful ground-dweller generally inhabits rainforests, although it can be found in drier woodlands or scrubby areas. Despite its bright colouration, the bird is surprisingly hard to spot although its presence is revealed by its characteristic call which sounds like ‘walk to work’! Pittas often use a stone as an ‘anvil’ to crack snail shells open.
Distribution: east coast of Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea
Andean Condor Vultur gryphus
The Andean Condor is one of the largest vultures. It belongs to the family Cathartidae, or ‘New World’ vultures, that inhabit warm to temperate areas of the Americas. Cathartid vultures are not related to ‘Old World’ vultures in the family Accipitridae. Old World vultures inhabit Europe, Asia and Africa and belong to the same family as eagles, kites and hawks. Surprisingly, cathartid vultures are more closely related to storks.
The two groups are a good example of convergent evolution, where similar features have evolved independently in unrelated groups. Vultures in both families share characteristics that enable them to be superb scavengers. They have sharp-edged, hooked bills to help shred meat (or in the case of Bearded Vultures, Gypaetus barbatus, to crunch bone); bare heads and necks to reduce soiling when feeding in bloody carcasses and to assist with thermoregulation; and large wings for soaring and catching warm air currents, useful for saving energy when searching for food.
Distribution: Andes, from Venezuela to Tierra del Fuego, to sea-level Peru and Chile