name = Cassowary
image_width = 200px
image_caption = Southern Cassowary
phylum = Chordata
classis = Aves
genus = "Casuarius"
genus_authority = Brisson, 1760
subdivision_ranks = Species
subdivision = "
genus"Casuarius") are very large flightless birds native to the tropical forests of New Guineaand northeastern Australia. The Southern Cassowary is the third largest flightless bird on the planet, [Two other, smaller species of Cassowary live in the highlands of New Guinea.] smaller only than the ostrichand 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 fungiin addition to invertebrates and small vertebrates. Cassowaries are very shy, but when disturbed, they are capable of inflicting injuries to an adult human. Today, they are considered the most dangerous bird in the world. [The last person to have been killed by a cassowary was a sixteen-year-old boy, in 1926, according to Brendan Borrell, "Invasion of the cassowaries," "Smithsonian Magazine" (October 2008) p. 20.]
Taxonomy and evolution
Cassowaries (from the Indonesian name "kasuari") are part of the
ratitegroup, which also includes the emu, rhea, ostrich, and kiwi, and the extinct Moaand Elephant Bird. There are three species recognized today:
Southern Cassowaryor Double-wattled cassowary "C. casuarius" of Australiaand New Guinea.
Dwarf Cassowary"C. bennetti" of New Guinea and New Britain.
Northern Cassowary"C. unappendiculatus" of New Guinea.
The evolutionary history of cassowaries, as of all ratites, is not well known. A fossil species was reported from Australia, but for reasons of
biogeographythis assignment is not certain and it might belong to the prehistoric "emuwaries", " Emuarius", which were cassowary-like primitive emus.
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 m (5 to 6 feet) tall, although some females may reach 2 m (6 feet 8 inches), and weigh about 70
kilograms (154 pounds). [http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/7-18-2006-102736.asp The Cassowary Bird ] ]
A cassowary's three-
toed feet have sharp claws; the dagger-like middle claw is 120 mm (5 inches) long. This claw is particularly dangerous since the Cassowary can use it to kill an enemy, disemboweling it with a single kick. They can run up to 50 km/h(32 mph) through the dense forest. They can jump up to 1.5 m (5 feet) and they are good swimmers.Fact|date=February 2007
All three species have horn-like crests called
casques on their heads. These consist of "a keratinous skin over a core of firm, cellular foam-like material".Crome, F., and L. Moore. 1988. The cassowary’scasque. "Emu" 88:123–124. [http://www.publish.csiro.au/?act=view_file&file_id=MU9880123.pdf] ] Several purposes for the casques have been proposed. One possibility is that they are secondary sexual characteristics. Other suggestions include that they are used to batter through underbrush, as a weapon for dominance disputes, or as a tool for pushing aside leaf litter during foraging. The latter three are disputed by biologist Andrew Mack, whose personal observation suggests that the casque amplifies deep sounds.Mack A.L., Jones J. 2003. "Low-frequency vocalizations by cassowaries (Casuarius spp.)". "The Auk" 120(4):1062–1068 [http://www.bioone.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&issn=0004-8038&volume=120&issue=04&page=1062] ] However, the earlier article by Crome and Moore says that the birds do lower their heads when they are running "full tilt through the vegetation, brushing saplings aside and occasionally careering into small trees. The casque would help protect the skull from such collisions." Mack and Jones also speculate that the casques play a role in either sound reception or acoustic communication. This is related to their discovery that at least the Dwarf Cassowary and Southern Cassowary produce very-low frequency sounds, which may aid in communication in dense rainforest. This "boom" is the lowest known bird call, and is on the edge of human hearing. [http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/11/1104_031104_cassowary.html]
Females lay three to eight large, pale green-blue eggs in each clutch. These eggs measure about 9 by 14 cm (3½ by 5½ inches) — only
ostrichand emueggs are larger. The female does not care for the eggs or the chicks; the male incubates the eggs for two months, then cares for the brown-striped chicks for nine months, defending them fiercely against all potential predators, including humans.Fact|date=February 2007
frugivorous; fallen fruitand fruit on low branches is the mainstay of their diet. They also eat fungi, snails, insects, frogs, and snakes. They are a keystone speciesof rain forests because they eat fallen fruit whole and distribute seeds across the jungle floor via excrement.
Distribution and habitat
Cassowaries are native to the
tropical forests of New Guineaand northeastern Australia. Some nearby islands also have small cassowary populations, but it is not known if these are natural or the result of the New Guinea trade in young birds.
Loss of habitat owing to the destruction of rainforest over the last 100 years has been the major factor in the decline of the Cassowary. For the last 20 years Mission Beach, Queensland, has experienced the greatest amount of lowland rainforest clearing in Australia. In the Mission Beach area alone, Cassowaries have lost about 50% of their critical habitat in the past ten years. The survival of many rainforest trees is tied to the Cassowary's
Traffic is another big problem. Between 1st July and 30th September 2003 one Sub Adult bird was killed by a car in the Mission Beach area despite reduced speed limits, big warning signs and recent road improvements intended to make the roads safer for Cassowaries.
Hand feeding of Cassowaries poses a big threat to their survival. [Borrell 2008.] In suburban areas the birds are more susceptible to vehicles and dogs. Contact with humans encourages Cassowaries to take most unsuitable food from picnic tables.
Feral pigs are a huge problem. They probably destroy nests and eggs; but their worst effect is as competitors for food, which could be catastrophic for the Cassowaries during lean times. Pigs also contaminate water sources.
Dogs chase the birds away from potential food sources in suburban areas.
Interactions with humans
The 2004 edition of the
Guinness World Recordslists the cassowary as the world's most dangerous bird. Normally cassowaries are very shy but when disturbed can lash out dangerously with their powerful legs. During World War IIAmerican and Australian troops stationed in New Guinea were warned to steer clear of the birds. They are capable of inflicting fatal injuries to an adult human. Usually, attacks are the result of provocation. Wounded or cornered birds are particularly dangerous. Cassowaries, deftly using their surroundings to conceal their movements, have been known to out-flank organized groups of human predators. Cassowaries are considered to be one of the most dangerous animals to keep in zoos, based on the frequency and severity of injuries incurred by zookeepers.
Role in seed dispersal and germination
" were found to be much higher after passing through a cassowary's gut (92% versus 4%). [ [http://www.botany.unimelb.edu.au/plantphys/bruce/webber&woodrow2004a.pdf Webber, B.L. and Woodrow, I.E. "Cassowary frugivory, seed defleshing and fruit fly infestation influence the transition from seed to seedling in the rare Australian rainforest tree, Ryparosa sp. nov. 1 (Achariaceae)." "Functional Plant Biology" 31: 505-516.] .]
Fauna of Australia
Fauna of New Guinea
* "Stay in Touch", Philip Clark (ed), "
The Sydney Morning Herald", 5 November 1990. Cites "authorities" for the death claim.
*Underhill D (1993) "Australia's Dangerous Creatures", Reader's Digest, Sydney, New South Wales, ISBN 0-86438-018-6
*"Readers' Digest", June 2006 issue.
*C4 - [http://www.cassowaryconservation.asn.au/ Cassowary Conservation based in Mission Beach]
* [http://www.peakoil.org.au/dave.kimble/rainforest/cassowary.htm The cassowary (photo essay)]
* [http://www.peakoil.org.au/dave.kimble/rainforest/catalog.htm Dave Kimble's Rainforest Photo Catalog]
* [http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/7-18-2006-102736.asp The Cassowary Bird]
*ARKive - [http://www.arkive.org/species/GES/birds/Casuarius_casuarius/ images and movies of the southern cassowary "(Casuarius casuarius)"]
* [http://ibc.hbw.com/ibc/phtml/familia.phtml?idFamilia=3 Cassowary videos] on the Internet Bird Collection
*Cassowaries in [http://www.missionbeachtourism.com/Rainforest.aspx Mission Beach]
* [http://www.missionbeachinfo.com Mission Beach] Cassowaries - Places to spot them
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