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Issue Features
Discovery Magazine 7/1/1997

THE “EGGS-OTIC” KIWI

by  Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.

 Bats were the only mammals in New Zealand before the arrival of man. There were no sheep, no deer, and no rabbits. But some of the birds and insects have played the same roles. The flightless moa, for example, took the place of deer or horses. They ate fruits, leaves, and grasses. Some were bigger than an ostrich, and laid an egg 7 inches in diameter and 10 inches long. Sadly, they all died out about two hundred years ago.

New Zealand’s most famous animal is the kiwi. This bird cannot fly, and has poor eyesight. But the kiwi does not care about this at all. It comes out of its burrow at night, and uses its long bill, with nostrils at the end, to sniff out worms, insects, and berries. The kiwi has strong legs with sharp claws that it can use to dig, or to defend itself.

What is most amazing about the kiwi is the size of its egg. The kiwi has the biggest egg for its body size of any bird in the world. Adult kiwis are about the size of chickens. They weigh about five pounds, but their eggs weigh around a pound! One kiwi egg can weigh as much as 4-8 chicken eggs. As you might expect, the egg takes twice as long to develop. Also, the kiwi egg has more yolk for its size than any other bird of its type (the yolk is a chick’s built-in food supply). A kiwi hatchling can live just on yolk for the first few days of its life.

The kiwi egg is a mystery for evolution. One idea is that nature gave the kiwi a big egg so that its hatchlings could leave the nest and begin feeding themselves very quickly. Another idea is that the kiwi is a dwarf version of its ancient parents. At one time, some evolutionists suggest, the kiwi had much bigger ancestors that laid big eggs. Somehow, the adult body size shrunk, but the poor kiwi forgot to shrink its egg along the way. All these ideas are just guesses, because no one knows anything about the ancestors of the kiwis.

There are lots of other problems. The kiwi parents are so well suited to their big eggs. A female kiwi must have just the right bones, muscles, organs, chemical signals, and everything else for growing and laying a huge egg. A male kiwi is special, too, because he sits on the egg once it is laid. To do this, he must have an extra large area under his body to cover the entire egg. And again, the egg has all that extra yolk.

When all the parts work together so well, and do something so wonderful, this makes us look to a Designer, not nature, to explain the kiwi.



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