Monday, July 7, 2014

Big Bird redux

When I was a kid I was convinced that emus were called "ostriches." Because come on! "Australia" sounds like OSS-trail-ya, so how could they not have the birds whose name sounds the same. I guess ratite branding was a big thing to my younger self.

It's not clear how closely related ostriches, emus, rheas, cassowaries etc are, and whether they had a common ancestor on the superncontinent of Gondwana. As you can see here, ostrichese and emus don't look that much alike. Emu necks are much fluffier. They do dance/play together well, considering both birds are somewhat volatile to begin with


susan said...

Thanks to you (and now wikipedia) I now know more about ratites than I ever expected. Yes, you'd think from just hearing the words, rather than seeing the spelling, that ostriches would be native to Australia - but, in fact they're African and emus are Australian. I've never seen either in the flesh even though I know they're big. Then there are the moas who are native to New Zealand - the idea of the now extinct 12ft tall ones that weighed 500lb is pretty stunning. Then there were the elephant birds of Madagascar who at 9ft tall were a bit shorter but made up for that lack by weighing around 800lb. Seeing a couple of them dancing would have been disturbing.

Ben said...

That's an interesting aspect of island life. Larger animals tend to get smaller - an evolutionary process known as dwarfing - because they don't have access to the same resources. Small animals often get bigger, possibly because of decreased predatory pressure. Hence the moa of New Zealand. Still, it's crazy to think that there used to be birds so big you could ride them like a horse (although they probably couldn't be tamed for that.)