Fiji’s Extinct Megafauna

Fiji-crocodile-Volia-athollandersoni Fiji’s Extinct Megafauna

As with most islands in the Pacific, the distance between neighboring land masses can be huge, and this has a filtering effect on colonizing species. Animals that can fly (birds, bats, and insects) or survive rafting across seas (reptiles and rodents) dominate island fauna, while amphibians and freshwater fish are very rare colonists.  Recently, advances in pale zoology (the scientific study of extinct animals) have led to the discovery that Fiji was once home to a large variety of animals and birds, some considerably larger than their relatives that survive today, which became extinct very soon after the human settlement…

Most of the discoveries of fossil material in Fiji were made by the New Zealand paleontologist Trevor Worthy and the staff of the Fiji Museum in a number of limestone caves. Two are near Volivoli, just north of the celebrated sand dunes of Sigatoka, Nadroga, in the southwest of the main island of Viti Levu. One of these is named Qaranivokai, which means ‘cave of the iguana’. Other caves in which copious material has been found are at Wailotua in the Wainibuku valley, inland northern Viti Levu, and at Wainibuku, near Suva in southeast Viti Levu. These caves appear to have formed natural pitfalls so that animals fell into them through holes or cracks and remained entombed there until they died. Their bones then became embedded and preserved in layers of sediment…

New Zealand paleontologist Trevor Worthy and Limestone Cave Fossil Sites scaled
Image: New Zealand paleontologist Trevor Worthy and Limestone Cave Fossil Sites on Viti Levu

Fiji crocodile (Volia athollandersoni)

Painiting of the extinct Fiji crocodile (Volia athollandersoni), brown and green in colouration.
Image: Fiji crocodile (Volia athollandersoni) Drawings

The terrestrial Fiji crocodile (Volia athollandersoni), now extinct belonged to the family Mekosuchidae. It was a small crocodile around 2–3 meters (7–10 ft) in length, although small in stature, it would have been one of the most feared animals in Fiji before human settlement. It was named in 2022, after Professor Atholl Anderson, the Australian archaeologist who directed the project which resulted in the discovery of its fossil remains found in the Voli-Voli and Wainibuku Caves of Viti Levu Island.

Vitilevu giant pigeon (Natunaornis gigoura)

Image: Giant-Fiji-megapodes-Megavitiornis-altirostris Drawing

This is a giant flightless pigeon, up to 80cm (32 inches) tall. Though the remains of many large extinct pigeons have been discovered in the Pacific region, this is easily the largest. It probably fed mainly on fruit and seeds, while occasionally supplementing its diet with land molluscs and crab. It was named in honour of Kiniviliame Natuna, the senior chief of Volivoli in Nadroga, where the fossil remains of this bird were first discovered.

Viti Levu (Vitirallus watlingi)

Vitirallus watlingi Drawing
Image: Viti Levu (Vitirallus watlingi) Drawings

This flightless rail was similar to the widespread banded rail of Fiji (bici in Fijian), but with a distinct long, slender, curved bill. It was probably confined largely to the drier western parts of Viti Levu and succumbed to predation by people who arrived in Fiji some 3,000 years ago, and the accompanying rats. The genius name is composed of Viti, the Fijian name of the Fiji Islands, plus rallus, the Latin word for ‘rail’. The species is named after Fiji’s foremost naturalist and environmentalist, Dr. Dick Watling.  The Viti Levu Rail was described in 2004 based on subfossil remains collected from cave deposits on the island of Viti Levu, Fiji.

Giant Fiji ground frog (Platymantis Megabotoniviti).

Platymantis Megabotoniviti
Image: Giant Fiji ground Frog (Drawing) (Platymantis Megabotoniviti)

Platymantis megabotoniviti is an extinct species of frogs in the family Ceratobatrachidae, this was a large ground frog almost twice the size of its surviving relatives, the Fiji ground frog (Platymantis vitianus) and eaten to extinction by the first inhabitants of Fiji, and the rats (Rattus exulans and Rattus preator) that arrived with them. Its specific name is derived from botoniviti, the modern Fijian name for the native frogs, with the Greek prefix mega- meaning ‘great’.

Giant Fiji Megapodes (Megavitiornis Altirostris)

Giant Fiji Megapodes Megavitiornis Altirostris.
Image: Giant Fiji Megapodes (Megavitiornis Altirostris) Drawing

A megapode is a flightlessness chicken-like bird with large powerful feet that do not hatch its eggs but buries them under leaves or in soil, often near active volcanoes, so that they incubate by themselves (hence the other common English name “incubator bird”). There are no megapodes in Fiji today, but they are still found in Tonga and the Solomon Islands (Main Video). Even before their remains were discovered in Fiji, it was believed that they must have lived here, in order for their ancient name, malau, to have survived as far east as Tonga. There is no evidence for at least three species of megapodes in Fiji, all probably long since hunted to extinction for their flesh and their eggs. The scientific name of this new genus, Megavitiornis, means “large Fiji bird”

Video: Rare Megapode Birds


  • Megavitiornis. (2021, November 20). In Wikipedia. Link
  • Platymantis megabotoniviti. (2022, October 31). In Wikipedia. Link
  • Reid, S. (2019, June 4). Natunaornis gigoura. A Dinosaur A Day. Link
  • Reid, S. (2018). Natunaornis gigoura [Photograph]. A Dinosaur a day. Link
  • Unknown (2013). Over 1,000 Extinct Pacific Birds [Photograph]. Nature Fiji. Link
  • Unknown (2018). Megavitiornis [Photograph]. SciiFii Wiki. Link
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