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Animal Detail ViewՄանրամասն` նրանց մասին

27.02.2012

Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae)


Scientific classification:  

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Struthioniformes
Family: Dromaiidae
Genus: Dromaius
Species: Dromaius novaehollandiae

 

Description

The Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) is a flightless bird. Flightless birds lack the ability to fly, relying instead on their ability to run or swim. The Emu is the only extant member of the species Emu. Other Emu species as the Tasmanian Emu and the King Island Emu became extinct in the 19th century. In its habitat, Australia, the Emu is the largest bird. It achieves a height up to 2 meters and a weight between 50 and 55 kilogram. In average the females weigh 5 kilogram more than the males. The Emu cannot fly; instead its body is perfectly built for running. With its unfeathered long, strong legs it can run up to 50 km/h and maintain this speed over some distance. Their feet have three toes.
Their plumage is soft-feathered and brown. Because of the lack of hooks, which normally lock together the feathers of flying birds, its plumage is looser and fluffier. Moreover this is caused by the fact that they have double feathers, in which a second feather starts at the base of the main feather and hangs simply from the body. This feather structure results in a good thermoregulation. After the molt the plumage is quite dark but it is soon becoming brown-greyish caused by the sunlight. The leg and the neck of Emus are long but the wings are tiny.
The color of Emu chicks is striped with black, brown and cream providing a perfect camouflage when hiding in long grass and bushes.
All in all the species is seen as divided in four subspecies which differ a bit in their coloration.
Emus are able to create loud sounds, which are heard over a distance up to 2 kilometers. This is possible because the birds develop a hole between their windpipe which they use as resonance box. The life span of Emus is 5-10 years in the wild, but longer in captivity.

Range and habitat

The Emu is native to Australia and inhabits almost all areas except rainforests and deserts. Still it is widespread in eucalyptus forests, woodland, open grasslands, desert shrubbery and sand-plains. It is even living close to big cities, but in areas, in which natural vegetation is destroyed e.g. for agriculture, the species has disappeared.

Behavior

Emus travel long distances, predominately in pairs, but sometimes even in large flocks, to get to new food sources. In summer the movement appears in northern direction, in the winter to the south. During their journey they easily cross rivers because of their ability to swim. The access to fresh water is needed every day whereas they can store food in form of fat. Meanwhile Emus occur in many areas in which new permanent watering points for cattle, sheep and agriculture provide enough water. The Emus’ migration routes are also influenced by climate. As they can find more food in humid regions the birds wander always to places were rain was falling down recently. It’s not yet clear how Emus orientate themselves and can detect rain from several hundred kilometers away. Researchers believe this is a combination of sighting distant rain cloud formations, smelling rain, and hearing the far-off sound of thunder from distances the human ear cannot.

Diet

Adult emus are the largest herbivorous animals in Australia. They eat native plants as well as imported plants from Europe, seeds, fruits, herbs and grasses. Especially young Emus eat besides vegetarian food insects as grasshoppers or grubs. The diet is quite nutritive.
To promote their digestion they don't only pick food from the ground, but also small stones and sand, which fulfills similar work like teeth in the gizzard.
They save food as fat reserves and in times in which food is rare they can lose up to 20 kilogram of their own body mass.

Reproduction

Emus pair in December and January. This is unusual as most birds wait for longer days in spring before breeding, but for Emus it's reversed. It's shortening days that switch on their reproduction instincts (the Australian seasons are the opposite of those in the northern hemisphere!). The couples establish a territory of about 30 square kilometers where they mate. During the intensive courting period which lasts until April the Emus, in particular the females, make a drumming sound, which can be heard hundreds of meters away. While copulation the female emu is sitting on the ground, the male behind her uttering purring sounds. The male builds a nest by placing bark, grass, twigs, and leaves in a shallow depression in the ground. In April, May or June the pair mates every day, with the female laying an egg every two or three days, until a clutch is formed. Most clutches have about 8 to10 eggs but the number can go up to 20. This is due to the fact that female Emus visit other nests to lay eggs thus the clutches can contain eggs of more than one hen. Emu eggs are easily identifiable due to their large size, about the size of a grapefruit, and greenish-black color. The eggs are not a uniform shade and can range from a light shade of green to almost black. After about seven eggs the male gets 'broody' and sits on them for the entire 56 days of the incubation period. He will not leave the nest and the only time he stands up is to turn the eggs, which he does 10-12 times a day. During incubation the male Emu will lose up to one third of its body mass as he doesn't eat or drink, just living off his fat and any nearby dew on the grass. When the male starts to incubate the hens go away and occasionally mate with other Emus laying the eggs in different nests. Some other females stay near the nest to defend the male. At the time that hatching takes place the male is getting aggressive and drives the females away. The cock takes care of the chicks, leading them to feeding areas and showing them what to eat. Emus are very caring fathers they even adopt lost young Emus from other broods if they are smaller than their own nestlings. 2 to 3 month later the young Emus are independent. They achieve sexual maturity in an age of 2 to 3 years.

Conservation Status

The species has an extremely large range and the population tends to be stable. On the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species the Emu is qualified as Least Concern. The species has even benefited by human activities as the constructions of stable watering points for agriculture.

The influence and role of Emus

For the Australian biodiversity the Emu has a very important role because it disperses seeds. Often the bird eats whole seeds which are still intact when they come out again and are spread along the Emus’ migration routes. According to their diet they furthermore control insect populations.

Humans are often afraid of damage caused by Emus. The birds pick up large quantities of grain and can easily jump over fences. In 1932 the Australian government launched the “Emu War”. With machine guns and grenades they tried to kill bird populations. The “war” was quite unsuccessful. Meanwhile a 1000 kilometer long fence has been built and protects successfully agricultural areas of the southwest.

70 years ago the farming of Emus started. They are kept for their meat and for their skin which is used for leather products. From the birds fat the Emu oil is extracted, which is used for pharmaceutical and cosmetic purposes. A by-product of the emu-breeding are infertile emu eggs. In the farms approximately 20% of the eggs cannot be used for breeding. These eggs are getting hand-painted and can reach high prices as collectibles.


History

For the Aboriginals the Emu was an important meat, fat and skin source. They hunted them with varied techniques. One method, for instance, was the contamination of water holes which were used by the large birds. There are many aboriginal myth and traditional art in which the Emu has a central role. One tribe ascribes the origin of the earth to an emu egg, which was thrown into the sky. Rock paintings of Emus, estimated to an age of 15.000 years, were also detected.
The first European settlers as well, hunted Emus because of food, but also in order to protect their farmlands. Unofficially the Emu is the national bird of Australia. It is seen on the emblem as well as on the 50 cent coins. Many places and products are named after this impressive bird.

Short Facts

  • Their strong legs allow them to rip metal wire fences.

  • After the ostrich, the Emu is the second largest bird in the world.

  • The first occurrence of genetically identical bird twins was discovered in the Emu species.

  • More than 600 places in Australia are named after the Emu.

  • The name Emu is not an Aboriginal word. It comes from an old Arabic word that means “large bird”.

  • Emus have been resident in Australia at least 80 million years, which means they have already been around since the time of the dinosaurs.



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