|An artist's rendering of Ornimegalonyx
at the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural
de Cuba. Even bigger than Tyto cravesae!
Photo by Darrin O'Brien.
These owls were all larger than Tyto alba, the common Barn Owl found across much of the world today, including in North America. Based on the bones found, Craves's Giant Barn Owl was likely somewhat larger than a Great Horned Owl. There were also even larger prehistoric owls in Cuba in the genus Ornimegalonyx, estimated to be a meter or more tall!
The cave deposits date from sometime in the late Pleistocene (the epoch ranging from 2.5 million to around 12,000 years ago), and include the bones of prey items. Craves's Giant Barn Owl fed on large rodents and small mammals. The lack of other predators on mammals besides giant birds in the West Indies is the main reason these owls evolved into such large forms. "My" owl probably often preyed upon hutias, a group of rodents endemic to the Caribbean region; one species identified with the Tyto cravesae bones was that of the Cuban or Desmarest's Hutia (Capromys pilorides). The giant Antillean owls probably became extinct due to the loss of their prey species.
I got to know William during several U.S. licensed trips to Cuba in the early 2000s in which I assisted with and lead bird surveys throughout the island. William is a leading authority on Caribbean birds and mammals, both living and extinct. He has written or co-authored many papers as well as a book, and described and named several other new genera and species of birds. Over the years, we kept in continuous touch both as friends and colleagues.
In the paper describing Tyto cravesae, the section describing the naming of the species states: "After Julie Craves, of the University of Michigan-Dearborn for her dedication to avian conservation and her boundless appreciation of Cuban friends and birds."
No matter what he has encountered, William has persevered with remarkable optimism and good humor. His strength and accomplishments have been a continual source of inspiration to me. I am incredibly honored that he chose to name this new species of owl after me, when the true honor has been mine, simply having the opportunity to be his friend.
|Julie Craves and William Suárez at the Big House, August 2014.