Fla. Museum volunteers join hunt for flightless "Terror Bird" fossil skeleton in Newberry

March 26th, 2007

Photos available

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History scientists continue to find complete fossil animal skeletons in a 2-million-year-old sinkhole in western Alachua County and are desperately seeking volunteers to help excavate the site.

Located northeast of Newberry, this site has produced the largest number of fossil animal skeletons ever found at a single Florida location. With the help of volunteers, scientists hope to find the first skeleton of the 7-foot-tall flightless Terror Bird, Titanis walleri, that once roamed ancient Florida.

Florida Museum crews led by professional paleontologists are digging at the site every day until the end of May and more volunteers are needed most days. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old, physically fit enough to work outside for a minimum of three hours and provide their own transportation to the site. No experience is necessary and all needed training will be provided on the first day of work.

Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Florida Museum paleontologists Jonathan Bloch and Richard Hulbert and many volunteers have collected more than 250 skeletons from this site in less than two years. Important new discoveries include the first remains of two saber-toothed cats, an extinct elephant with strange-spiraled tusks, massive sloths the size of a bull elephant and armadillos the size of a black bear.

Hulbert said it is possible crews may find a Terror Bird skeleton because fossils of the animal were first discovered only 12 miles from Newberry in the Santa Fe River.

“Titanis was a major predator in Florida 2 million years ago,” Hulbert said. “But it is known from only a few dozen, mostly incomplete bones. A complete skeleton would be a major find.”

Those interested in volunteering for this unique opportunity should visit www.flmnh.ufl.edu/vertpaleo/2007_dig.htm or email rhulbert@flmnh.ufl.edu for more information.

Volunteers also are needed in the museum’s paleontology collection on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays to clean, repair and sort fossils from the Newberry site.

Contact: Paul Ramey, (352) 846-2000, ext. 218, pramey@flmnh.ufl.edu