Dr Trevor Worthy

From relatively humble beginnings in the Far North, Trevor developed a passion for Biology at WBHS that has led to notable scientific achievement.  Known as “Mr Moa”, Trevor is now one of the world’s leading authorities on NZ fauna fossils and in particular the Moa. 

Trevor Worthy was a Carruth House resident for 4 years. He was reputed to have caught a wild pig, brought it home to Carruth, and had the Matron cook it and serve it whole on a platter to the borders.

He has published many papers in journals and scientific publications and a number of books. He was recently awarded the Doctor of Science degree from Waikato University. 

Trevor grew up in Broadwood, Northland, and went to Whangarei Boys’ High School.  He began his career as a largely self-taught palaeontologist, after becoming interested in fossils through caving. He completed his BSc and MSc at the University of Waikato, then did a second Master’s degree at Victoria University of Wellington.

In 1987, Trevor described three new leiopelmatid frog species from cave subfossils: 

  • Aurora frog (Leiopelma auroraensis), 
  • Markham’s frog (Leiopelma markhami), 
  • Waitomo frog (Leiopelma waitomoensis). 

In the 1990s, he discovered several fossil bird species new to science, including: 

  • Long-billed wren (Dendroscansor decurvirostris) in 1991
  • Scarlett’s shearwater (Puffinus spelaeus) in 1994
  • Niue night heron (Nycticorax kalavikai) in 2000 

In 1991, he also described the Northland skink, a fossil skink species new to science.

In fieldwork from 1997 to 1999, he excavated subfossil bones in Fiji, where he found and later described the remains of the flightless Viti Levu giant pigeon (Natunaornis gigoura), the Viti Levu scrubfowl (Megapodius amissus), the Viti Levu snipe (Coenocorypha miratropica), the giant Fiji ground frog (Platymantis megabotoniviti), and the small freshwater crocodile Volia athollandersoni. The holotypes of these species were deposited in the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa.

For years, Trevor has led the excavations of Miocene fossils (the Saint Bathans Fauna) from a prehistoric lake in Central Otago, revealing the oldest known moa bones and 40 other species of birds, the oldest tuatara bones, several bats and the first known fossil land mammal from New Zealand. In total, he has described and named over 100 new vertebrate species including 75 birds.


  • DSc 2011, Contributions to understanding the avifauna of the southwest Pacific. Faculty of Science and Engineering, The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand, graduated 2 May 2011.
  • PhD 2008, Tertiary fossil waterfowl (Aves: Anseriformes) of Australia and New Zealand. Environmental Biology, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Adelaide, South Australia, 22 Dec. 2008.
  • MSc 1986 – Graduated 20 October, fossil frogs, Victoria University, Wellington.
  • MSc 1981 – Graduated 9 April, limnology, The University of Waikato, Hamilton.
  • BSc 1978 – Graduated 14 April, Science, The University of Waikato, Hamilton, NZ

Honours and awards 

  • 2017, Riversleigh Medal, from the Riversleigh Society, for excellence in promoting understanding of Australian Prehistory.
  • 2012, Elected President of the Society Avian Paleontology and Evolution.
  • 2012, Flinders University: Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (2016 – 2021)
  • 2010, Meritorius Service Award from Ornithological Society of New Zealand
  • 2010 & 2011, University of New South Wales Goldstar awards, $40,000 pa for the Projects: The drowning of Zealandia: the role of dispersal in shaping New Zealand’s fauna; PS19070, PS22963.
  • 2008, Elected Vice President of the Society Avian Paleontology and Evolution.
  • 2005, Elected as a Corresponding Fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union for sustained research effort.
  • 2003, Awarded the D.L. Serventy Medal with R.N. Holdaway, by Birds Australia (Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union) for sustained research effort.

Trevor is the author or co-author of numerous research papers about prehistoric life in New Zealand. For the book The Lost World of the Moa (2002), he and Richard Holdaway received the D. L. Serventy Medal from the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union in 2003 for an outstanding published work about Australasian avifauna.

A great example of where a childhood interest can take you. Trevor has accumulated an impressive list of academic achievements and awards along the way, including publication of 233 peer-reviewed papers, 11 conference proceedings, 23 book chapters, 4 books and numerous other technical publications, and has been involved as a consultant in several television documentaries.

In addition to his position within the Flinders Palaeontology research group, that lately included the prestigious Australian Research Council’s Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (2013-2015) and Flinders University, Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow (2016-2021) he was Elected President of the Society of Avian Palaeontology and Evolution (2012 – 2016), was a continuing member of the Editorial Board, Subject editor of the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology (2009-2018) and of Zootaxa (2012 – continuing), and was Honorary Research Associate in the Vertebrate Fossil Department, Museum of New Zealand (1989-2019).

Trevor is currently the Editor for 3 journals and have had other roles in the past. He is the Chief editor for Trans. Roy Soc South Australia, Avlan Systematics and Aves editor for Zootaxa. He has supervised 9 Honours students and 7 PhD students to completion and currently supervises 6 PhD candidates and 1 Honours candidate.

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