The elephant bird of Madagascar have been extinct for hundreds of years and as such it’s pretty difficult (read: impossible) to find an elephant bird egg. The Buffalo Museum of Science knew this, so they settled for a fake model of one of the massive eggs to add to their rotation of displays. After going through their various pieces to catalog them, the museum’s curators realized that the egg didn’t seem much like a model, and that’s when they realized they had an actual elephant bird egg on their hands.
The egg, which measures a whopping 28 inches in circumference and stands over a foot tall, is one of less than 40 known intact elephant bird eggs currently held by museums and other public collections and, now that it’s been rediscovered, it’s getting a lot more attention.
Sifting through the massive collection of items at the museum is no easy task, but the egg caught the attention of Paige Langle, the museum’s collections manager of zoology. The egg was labeled as a model, but it seemed incredibly realistic. “I tried to shrug it off, but the more closely I looked at the surface of the eggshell and felt the weight of the egg, the more I kept thinking this has to be real,” Langle told Smithsonian.com.
She began digging through more of the collection and discovered what was clearly a model of an elephant bird egg. That fake egg was obviously the one meant to be cataloged as a replica, but somehow a real example of the huge egg ended up in its place.
A deeper dive into the museum’s records revealed that the egg was obtained from a taxidermy collector way back in 1939. The museum had reached out to a number of dealers around the globe in the hopes of obtaining one of the eggs but was shot down by almost all of them. One collector came through, however, and the egg was sent to the museum’s curator. Somehow, over many decades, it ended up in a mislabeled box and was stored in the collection as a replica.
The egg was authenticated by researchers who confirmed it was real, and also that it still had the sub-fossilized embryo of a baby elephant bird resting inside of it. The egg is now expected to be put on display at the museum, so everyone can enjoy the treasure that was almost lost to time.