Monday, July 6, 2009
"The inner or second of the three toes is fitted with a long, straight, murderous nail which can sever an arm or eviscerate an abdomen with ease. There are many records of natives being killed by this bird."
The cassowary (genus Casuarius) is a very large flightless bird native to the tropical forests of New Guinea and nearby islands, and northeastern Australia.
The Southern Cassowary is the third tallest and second heaviest living bird, smaller only than the Ostrich and Emu.
Cassowaries feed mainly on fruits, though all species are truly omnivorous and will take a range of other plant food including shoots, grass seeds and fungi in addition to invertebrates and small vertebrates.
Cassowaries are very shy, but when disturbed, they are capable of inflicting fatal injuries to dogs and children.
The Northern and Dwarf Cassowaries are not well known. All cassowaries are usually shy birds of the deep forest, adept at disappearing long before a human knows they are there. Even the more accessible Southern Cassowary of the far north Queensland rain forests is not well understood.
Females are bigger and more brightly coloured. Adult Southern Cassowaries are 1.5 to 1.8 metres (59–71 in) tall, although some females may reach 2 metres (79 in), and weigh 58.5 kilograms (129 lb).
All cassowaries have feathers that consist of a shaft and loose barbules. They do not have retrices (tail feathers) or a preen gland. Cassowaries have small wings with 5-6 large remeges. These are reduced to stiff, keratinous quills, like porcupine quills, with no barbs. A claw is on each second finger. The furcula and coracoid are degenerate, and their palatal bones and sphenoid bones touch each other. A cassowary's three-toed feet have sharp claws. The second toe, the inner one in the medial position, sports a dagger-like claw that is 125 millimetres (4.9 in) long. This claw is particularly fearsome since cassowaries sometimes kick humans and animals with their enormously powerful legs (see Cassowary Attacks, below). Cassowaries can run up to 50 km/h (31 mph) through the dense forest. They can jump up to 1.5 metres (4.9 ft)and they are good swimmers, crossing wide rivers and swimming in the sea as well.