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Teratornis merriami.jpg

Teratornis merriami, or Merriam's teratorn, was a huge North American teratorn, with a wingspan of around 3.5 to 3.8 meters (11 to 12 feet), a wing area of 17.5 square meters, standing an estimated 75 cm tall and weighing about 15 kg. It was somewhat larger than the extant Andean Condor and nearly two times as heavy as the Californian Condor, a closely related species, the Aiolornis, was about 40% larger and lived at an earlier time; it was formerly known as Teratornis incredibilis, but is distinct enough to be placed in its own. However, it is an extinct species of bird related to modern day condors and vultures. Many fossils of this large scavenger, possessing a wingspan up to 14 feet, have been found in the La Brea tar pit excavations. It is believed that the large dead and dying mammals drew Teratornis to the pits where they ultimately became trapped themselves. This species existed 10,000 to 8 million years ago and probably became extinct when the large mammals they feed on grew scarce. T. merriami is the best-known of the teratorns. A large number of fossil and subfossil bones, representing more than 100 individuals, have been found in locations in California, southern Nevada, Arizona, and Florida, though most are from the Californian La Brea Tar Pits. All remains but one Early Pleistocene partial skeleton from the Leisey Shell Pit near Charlotte Harbor, Florida (which may represent a different species or a subspecies) date from the Late Pleistocene, with the youngest remains dating from the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary. T. merriami generally lived in a manner similar to modern-day condors, although its larger bill suggests that it was a more active predator. Smaller prey up to the size of a small rabbit would probably be swallowed more or less whole, while carrion would have been fed on in a manner similar to condors or vultures.

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