Buffalo Museum of Science prepares to display egg-stremely rare fossil discovered in collection

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The Buffalo Museum of Science is preparing to unveil for the public an egg-stremely rare fossil that few people in the world have seen.

The intact fossilized elephant bird egg was recently discovered in the Museum’s collection.

“It puts Buffalo on an very select list,” said Kathryn Leacock, the Director of Collections for the Buffalo Museum of Science.  “There are less than 40 intact eggs in public institutions in the world.”

The massive elephant bird once roamed Madagascar before going extinct centuries ago. The birds were nearly ten feet tall, and some researchers believe one of their eggs could feed an entire family.

The Buffalo Museum of Science’s elephant bird egg is about a foot tall, weighs more than three pounds, and has the volume of about 150 chicken eggs, but until recently, museum staff thought it was a replica.

“It was in a case, and the case just had an old exhibit label that said ‘A cast of an elephant bird egg’ and it was kind of laying next to it. Knowing how rare these eggs are, I never questioned it,” Leacock explained.

But, as museum staff members were re-cataloguing the museum’s egg collection, they found another elephant bird egg that was obviously a cast, and they started asking questions. “If this one’s a model, what’s that one over there?” Leacock recalled.

Leacock says, upon closer inspection, they realized the thing that had been labeled as a cast didn’t not fit that mold. “It feels different, it looks different, it weighs different,” Leacock said, “and at that point we got excited.”

The museum staff sent the mystery egg to a team at Buff State to x-ray, and were thrilled when they found out they had the real deal. “It’s just been so exciting!” Leacock said, pointing out that the x-rays showed the Museum’s egg was likely a fertilized egg in the early stages of development.

“We hope that through this discovery that people who are far more knowledgeable about this species than anybody here are willing to come and take a look and help us out hand help us further our knowledge about what’s going on with it,” Leacock said.

Going through museum records to help authenticate the elephant bird egg that was discovered, museum staff learned this elephant egg was purchased in 1939 from a taxidermy shop in London for less than $200.

A few years ago, a similar intact elephant bird egg sold from a private collection at auction for over $100,000.

The vast majority of elephant egg fossils in collections around the world are just egg shell fragments, so having a fertilized intact elephant egg in a public collection is extremely valuable.

And, it makes you wonder, what else is in the Buffalo Museum of Science’s collection that we don’t know about right now? “That’s the million dollar question,” Leacock laughed.

If you want to see the newly discovered elephant bird egg for yourself, it will go on display for the public in the Rethink Extinct exhibit starting May 1.

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