- Associated Press - Friday, December 10, 2010

JAKARTA, INDONESIA (AP) - Fossils of a giant stork have been discovered on a far-flung Indonesian island that has been home to many extreme-sized creatures _ from tiny human-like “hobbits” and dwarf elephants to the world’s largest-known rats and lizards.

Authors Hanneke Meijer and Rokus Due wrote in the December issue of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society that leg bones from the marabou stork, which lived 20,000 to 50,000 years ago, indicate it stood around 6 feet (180 centimeters) tall and weighed up to 35 pounds (16 kilograms).

It appears to have been primarily land-based, they wrote.

The bones were found during excavations of the Liang Bua cave in the west of the island of Flores at a depth of around 15 feet (4.7 meters).

Flores, located on Indonesia’s eastern edge, has never been connected to another island or mainland, shaping evolution of historic wildlife, with many small-sized warm blooded animals growing larger than elsewhere on the planet, and big-sized mammals becoming more diminutive, said Colin Groves, a professor at Australian National University who was not related to the study, citing the so-called “island rule” in biology.

With no mammalian carnivores, birds and reptiles faced less competition for food, accounting for some of their massive size.

Even today, rats more than 16 inches (40 centimeters) from head to body can be found on Flores. It is also home to Komodo dragons, the largest lizards on earth, which grow to be up to 10 feet (3 meters) long, weighing up to 150 pounds (70 kilograms).

At the same time, food scarcities, as compared to on the continent, may have contributed to reduced sizes of elephants and others.

Most famously, the bones of a 4-foot (120-centimeter)-high high human species, popularly known as the `hobbit,’ or Homo floresiensis, which survived until around 17,000 years ago, were also found on the island.

Meijer, a paleontologist from the National Museum of Natural History in Leiden, the Netherlands, and Due, from the National Archaeological Research Center in Jakarta, noted that their stork “must have towered over the tiny H. floresiensis.”