Egg of extinct elephant bird was mislabeled as fake for decades, museum realizes

A museum in Buffalo, N.Y., recently discovered that a rare elephant bird egg in its collection had been mislabeled as a model for decades.

A collections manager at the Buffalo Museum of Science was updating its catalog to a digital system when she discovered the “realistic” cream-colored egg among its collection of more than 1,000 eggs, the Buffalo News reported.

"When I saw the egg, it was so much bigger than any other eggs in our collection," Paige Langle, collections manager of zoology, told the paper. "It had so much detailing and pitting, and the color was beautiful. It looked too realistic to be a model.”

The partially fossilized egg measured 28 inches around and weighed more than 3 pounds.

The curators took the egg to the Art Conservation Department at the State University of New York at Buffalo for a radiography — a technique that uses X-rays to see inside an object, the paper said.

The test not only confirmed their suspicions, but it also showed “specs of white” that indicated it could have been fertilized.

This photo provided by The Buffalo Museum of Science shows a radiograph (X-Ray) of a rare elephant bird egg that curators recently realized is an actual egg from the extinct creature. The fully-intact egg, 12-inches tall, 28 inches in circumference, and weighing more than 3 pounds, had previously been mislabeled as a model. Curators discovered the mistake while cataloguing pieces in the museum's collection. The museum will unveil the egg to the public May 1, 2018. (The Buffalo Museum of Science via AP)

A radiography (X-Ray) of a rare elephant bird egg confirmed it had been real all along.  (The Buffalo Museum of Science via AP)

Museum records showed a previous curator had acquired the elephant bird egg in 1939 from a London taxidermist for $92, the Buffalo News reported. The taxidermist had bought the egg on the island of Madagascar — located off the southeast coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean — the birds’ native habitat.

The flightless bird grew to be 10 feet tall, weighed between 770 and 1,100 pounds and laid the largest eggs of any vertebrate — even dinosaurs. It went extinct more than 600 years ago, according to WGRZ-TV.

Experts say there are fewer than 40 intact elephant bird eggs held in public institutions. The egg nearest to the Buffalo discovery can be found at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, according to the Buffalo News.

"We are super excited that the Buffalo Museum of Science is in that select group," Kathryn Leacock, the museum's director of collections, told the paper.

The museum is set to display the egg to the public beginning next Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.