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by AMNH on
Among the highlights of the exhibition ¡Cuba! was a life-sized model of Ornimegalonyx, a giant owl that became extinct about 6,000 years ago.
Ornimegalonyx was first described by the father of Cuban vertebrate paleontology, the late Oscar Arredondo, from subfossils—bones on their way to becoming fossils—found in 1954. All of the specimens, though, were incomplete, and scientists are still debating whether there was more than one species.
Arredondo oversaw reconstructions of the bird’s skeleton that were previously exhibited at Havana’s Museo de Historia Natural Felipe Poey. The new model on display in ¡Cuba! is a masterful likeness based on the latest scientific analysis.
Extrapolating from fragments of bones, beak, talons, and other fossil evidence, Jason Brougham, senior principal preparator in the Exhibition department, worked closely with researchers to fashion a striking lifelike model from steel, polyurethane foam, and epoxy.
Arredondo once speculated that “Ornimegalonyx had to have been the scourge and terror of most of the larger mammals of the Pleistocene of Cuba, and the claws and mandibles of this bird would have constituted a terrible combination of superior destructive power.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the Fall issue of Rotunda, the Member magazine.