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Prehistoric ninja bird evolved nunchuck-like wings

Scientists have discovered a prehistoric flightless bird whose wings evolved into massive curved weapons.

By Charles Q. ChoiLiveScience.com Contributor / January 4, 2011

Not all ninjas are mammals: Paleontologists have discovered remains of a prehistoric flightless Jamaican bird whose wings evolved into nunchuck-like weapons, not unlike those seen masterfully wielded by Bruce Lee in the 1973 kung-fu classic, 'Enter the Dragon.'

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An extinct bird from Jamaica apparently transformed its wings into banana-shaped clubs to beat its enemies with, scientists find.

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The peculiar, roughly chicken-size ibis Xenicibis xympithecusprobably went extinct less than 10,000 years ago, and may have been another casualty of humanity. It was flightless, just as many island birds are, but the 5-pound (2 kilogram) ibis nevertheless retained long wing bones. [Image of extinct bird]

Surprisingly, the "hands" of this bird apparently became massive curved weapons.

IN PICTURES: Unusual birds

"There's just nothing else out there like this in any other vertebrate," researcher Nicholas Longrich, a vertebrate paleontologist at Yale University, told LiveScience. "Usually evolution tends to hit on the same designs over and over, and this is just something completely different, so as a biologist it's sort of cool to find something and be able to say, 'Wow, I haven't seen that one before.'"

Their bizarrely distorted hands had short, block-like fingers, long palm bones thicker than their thighbones, and wrist joints that allowed the wings to swing rapidly like clubs.

"I sometimes compare these things to nunchucks, which I guess would make this a ninja bird, although perhaps a better analogy would be a pair of baseball bats — they were actively swung rather than moving passively like a flail or nunchaku," Longrich said.

Broken wing bones the researchers discovered suggest these clubs were used and abused in combat.

"These are pretty effective weapons, swung with enough force to break bones," Longrich said. "They weren't screwing around — these birds are taking and receiving some serious blows. They're angry birds."

When Longrich first saw the wings, "I thought they had to be a deformity," he said. "I couldn't believe that these were the natural shape of the bones — they were just too strange and bizarre."

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