Temporal range: Late Eocene
Neocathartes is an extinct genus of cariamid bird. It contains a single named species, Neocathartes grallator ("walking new turkey vulture"), known from some fossil bones found in Late Eocene (c. 37-34 mya) Washakie Formation deposits of Wyoming. Similar bones have been recovered from the Early Eocene Willwood Formation. The genus originally set up by Wetmore, Eocathartes, was already in use for an unrelated fossil bird from Germany, so a new genus had to be established for the Wyoming fossil.
Initially mistaken for a walking New World vulture, Neocathartes is now classified as a bathornithid, a family of cariamaeans. Neocathartes was a slender bird, around the size of a turkey vulture. Although it was capable of flight, it probably stayed on the ground most of the time, as evidenced by its long legs. Its lifestyle was most likely comparable to that of the modern-day secretary bird, or the seriema (to which the bathornithids were distantly related).
The reconstruction published with the original description of Neocathartes has often been reprinted and has now made the "terrestrial vulture" an integral part of the lore of avian paleontology. Well, forget it.Neocathartes is just our old friend Bathornis in another guise.
He considered the genus Neocathartes a junior synonym of Bathornis, but this was usually rejected by subsequent studies.
- Wetmore, Alexander (1944). "A new terrestrial vulture from the Upper Eocene deposits of Wyoming". Annals of the Carnegie Museum 30: 57–69.
- Wetmore, Alexander (1950). "A Correction in the Generic Name for Eocathartes grallator". Auk 67 (2): 235.
- Palmer, D., ed. (1999). The Marshall Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals. London: Marshall Editions. p. 181. ISBN 1-84028-152-9.
- Olson, Storrs L. (1985): Section X.A.I.b. The Tangle of the Bathornithidae. In: Farner, D.; King, J. & Parkes, K. (eds.): Avian Biology 8: 146–150. Academic Press, New York.
- An outdated reconstruction of Neocathartes as a walking New World vulture
- A much more accurate reconstruction (though details are still conjectural of course)
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