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Volume 6, 1873
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[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 18th August, 1873.]

Since the discovery of the very interesting specimen of the Moa's neck with well-preserved muscular tissue and integuments in the Earnscleugh cave, in the interior of the Province of Otago, * the locality has been visited several times, and especially last year by the Hon. Captain Fraser, who obtained, besides Moa bones, several belonging to a smaller-sized bird, being part of a skeleton most of which had been previously removed by some gold-diggers. I recognised these to belong to Cnemiornis calcitrans, of Owen, the only difference being that the humerus differed from that described by Professor Owen in several important characters. Besides the humerus were the right femur and tarso-metatarsus and the metacarpal bones; the two former agreeing accurately with Professor Owen's description and plates, and the last-mentioned being a new addition to the osteology of the bird. The chief difference in the humerus from that attributed to this bird by Professor Owen is its greater proportional size, it being equal in length to the femur, instead of one-ninth less, and in its having a very distinct pneumatic fossa, closed by a cribriform bony septum. In addition, the tuberosity representing the pectoral ridge is not so wide, and the proximal articular surface is slightly broader and more convex at its middle part than in the typical bone. These characters might lead to the surmise that it belonged to a carinate bird, but the massiveness of the bone was thought sufficient to disprove this. In order to determine this point with some degree of accuracy, I compared the weight with the bulk of the same bone in several species of birds, with the following results:—

Weight. Bulk.
1. Cnemiornis (Earnscleugh cave) 10 244
2. Weka (Ocydromus) (non-volant) 10 210
3. Kakapo (Stringops) (non-volant) 10 187
4. Kaka (Nestor) (volant) 10 131
5. Hawk (Hieracidea) (volant) 10 126

A small portion of the shaft was also removed, and the thickness of the bony wall found to be so great that the internal diameter is only two-thirds that of the external.

In consequence of the above divergence of character from the humerus described by Professor Owen, I was much interested in obtaining the

[Footnote] * Trans. N.Z. Inst., IV., 111.

[Footnote] † Trans. Zool. Soc, V., 399, Pl. 66.

[Footnote] ‡ Trans. N.Z. Inst., V., 406.

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Skeleton of Cnemiornis Calcitrans

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remainder of the bones of this skeleton, and, after tracing it through several hands, Captain Fraser at last succeeded in obtaining possession of the box containing the bones in the same state in which they had been found, and at once handed them over to me for description.

The skeleton is still far from complete, but the following bones are in a very admirable state of preservation:—Skull; vertebræ, 12 cervical, 4 dorsal; sternum; furculum; humerus, right; metacarpal, right; sacrum; femur; tibiæ, both; tarso-metatarsal; ribs, six.

They agree perfectly in appearance, colour, peculiar stains, texture, and other external characters, so that there is no reason to doubt that they all belong to one individual, which is further confirmed by the study of their anatomical characters.

The structure and form of the skull and sternum shew that this bird belongs to the Lamellirostrate family of the order Natatores, but that the power of flight had become obsolete, and that it differs from most others of the duck kind in its short, lofty head, very solid palate, and in the peculiar character of the tympanic cavity, which is bridged across by a bony process between the mastoid process and the basi-occipital. The great solidity of the skull, and the absence of occipital fontanelles and of all sutures excepting the naso-frontal and the lachrymal, is also remarkable.

Every bone of the skeleton, excepting the upper part of the sternum, has the close-grained, reticulated surface which is so characteristic of the bones of Cnemiornis, giving the impression of a very solid, powerful framework, that in the fresh state would contain much oily matter. The absence of the power of flight is evidenced by the rudimentary tubercular ridge that represents the keel, and the small area of attachment for the pectoral muscle on the surface of the sternum.