Cassowary The Deadliest Bird in the World
The Southern cassowary is a enormous flightless bird that lives in the rainforests of northern Queensland, Australia. It is the most dangerous bird in the world. It belongs to a group of large flightless dinosaur-bird known as ratites. It is closely related to the emu.
Cassowary is pronounced "cas-so-wary". Its scientific name is Casuarius casuarius.
With only 1,200 Southern cassowaries left in the wild, it may soon become extinct.
Cassowary Description & Characteristics What Do Cassowaries Look Like?
A cassowary can grow to nearly 2 meters and weigh up to 80 kilograms. The male and female cassowary is very similar in appearance. The female cassowary, however, is bigger, stronger and slightly more brightly coloured than the male.
The most prominent feather of the cassowary is the massive pointy helmet called a "casque" (pronounced like "cask") which sits on top of its head. The casque made of a sponge-like material covered with a thick outer layer of keratin – the same material our fingernails are made of. Although it looks solid, it is actually somewhat leathery, and soft enough to be pressed.
The cassowary has a long blue and purple feather-less neck with drooping red double wattles (the dangling bits like a turkey). The colour of its head and neck can change depending on the cassowary's mood. The exact nature of these colourations and their significance is not fully understood.
The cassowary has black, coarse glossy hair-like feathers. Its wings are tiny, having shrunk to the point of useless insignificance. These wings have no feathers but instead have a few long, modified quills, like porcupine quills, which curve around its body. It also has no tail feathers. These characteristics are useful for pushing through the thick undergrowth without getting entangled in thorns and vines.
The cassowary has excellent eyesight with large forward-facing amber coloured eyes. Its hearing is excellent too, being specially adapted to hear the low-frequency calls from other cassowaries.
The cassowary has strong scaly legs, each with three toes. The inside toe has a dagger-shaped spiky claw 10 centimetres long, which is generally used for scratching the ground but it is also a lethal weapon for fighting and defending itself.
A cassowary is quite agile and fast. It can run at speeds of up to 50 kph (30mph), even through thick forests. It can also jump as high as 2 meters m (6ft). It is a capable swimmer, crossing rivers and even swimming in the ocean. The cassowary's feathers aren't waterproof like most birds. So after a swim it shakes its body, much like a dog does, to get rid of water.
This bird has a lifespan of about 40 years in the wild and some in captivity have lived up to 60 years.
25 Cassowary Facts
- The cassowary is an enormous flightless bird that lives in the rainforests of northern Queensland, Australia.
- It is the second-largest bird in the world and can grow to 2m and weigh up to 80kg.
- The cassowary is the world’s most dangerous bird.
- It is closely related to the emu.
- It gets its name from the Papuan language - 'kasu' meaning horned and 'weri' meaning head.
- It avoids humans but is very brave and will stand its ground if approached.
- It attacks by jumping in the air and kicking with its powerful leg with dagger-like claws.
- 200 or so cassowary attacks are reported in Australia each year, but few deaths.
- A Florida man was killed by a cassowary in 2019. That was nearly 100 years since the previous death.
- The cassowary makes a low-frequency booming, rumbling sound that can be heard up to 5km away.
- The cassowary has a large helmet on its head called a Casque.
- This helmet is made of keratin—the same stuff as our fingernails.
- It has been suggested that the casque acts as an amplifier to generate the cassowary's low-frequency sounds and as a radar dish to receive calls from other cassowaries.
- It has tiny wings that have no feathers but have a few long quills.
- It also has no tail feathers.
- A Cassowary is quite agile and can run at 50 kph even through thick forests. It can also jump 2m and can swim. It even swims in the ocean.
- Its diet consists mainly of fruits that have fallen to the rainforest floor.
- 5. It is vital for forest regeneration because some seeds only germinate after passing through the cassowary's gut.
- The cassowary's feathers aren't waterproof. So after a swim, it shakes its body, much like a dog, to get rid of water.
- The female cassowary lays 3-8 bright green eggs which weigh about half a kilo.
- She then abandons the eggs.
- The male cassowary incubated the eggs and raises the chicks.
- The cassowary looks like a modern-day dinosaur bird.
- There are only 1,200 Southern cassowaries left in the wild.
- The cassowary may soon become extinct.
Cassowary Habitat Where Do Cassowaries Live?
The Southern Cassowary lives amongst the dense vegetation of the rainforests of northern Queensland in Australia. (See map). Occasional it may also venture out of its usual rainforest habitat into mangrove forests, swamplands and even beaches close by. A relative of the Southern Cassowary (Double-wattled Cassowary) is found on the island of Papua New Guinea to the north of Australia and is referred to as the Single-wattled Cassowary.
The cassowary is a shy and solitary animal that is difficult to see amid the forest foliage. It is usually active during dawn and dusk and rests during the heat of the day. You are more likely to know of the presence of a cassowary by the deep booming bird-call it makes while moving about its habitat.
These rainforest animals are territorial and will defend their home range vigorously. The cassowary requires a habitat with a high diversity of fruiting trees to provide it with a year-round supply of fleshy fruits. Their home territory is about 7 sq. kilometres and may vary from year to year depending on environmental factors.
Female territories sometimes overlap those of male cassowaries. Females are permitted to enter these male territories. This trespassing may be tolerated for two reasons. The most obvious being for mating. But a less obvious reason may be that the female cassowary is larger and more domineering than the male. So the male may be prudently avoiding a confrontation. If another male were to venture in, however, then the male owner would attempt to defend its territory vigorously.
Cassowary Diet What Do Cassowaries Eat?
The Cassowary is primarily a frugivore; its diet consists mainly of fruits that have fallen to the rainforest floor. But it also eats leaves, fungus, insects, snails, frogs, snakes, small animals, and carrion. A cassowary needs up to five kilograms of food a day. It usually feeds in the morning and at dusk and rests during the hottest part of the day.
The cassowary has a pointed beak but has no tongue. Because it doesn't have a tongue, it must pick up its food with its beak and toss it back into its throat to swallow it. The cassowary drinks by scooping water with its lower bill. It also has a sharper sense of smell than most birds which makes it easier for this bird to locate food in leaf litter and in dense forest.
The cassowary's favourite fruit is the Cassowary Plum. This large, blue fruit is poisonous to humans and most animals. The cassowary, however, enjoys eating this fruit so much that it will guard a tree that is dropping its fruit for days at a time until the tree stops shedding its fruit. The cassowary swallows the fruit whole. Its stomach contains rare digestive enzymes that break down the poisonous alkaloids in the fruit, making them harmless to this bird. This is very fortunate for the tree. The cassowary is the only animal large enough to swallow the entire fruit intact. It digests the fleshy pulp of the fruit and passes the seeds unharmed in large piles of dung. If not for this bird this tree would probably become very restricted in its habitat and may even become extinct.
Cassowaries have a relatively primitive digestive system compared to other birds. They don't have a gizzard with stones and grit with which to grind their food. As a result, they cannot extract the nutrition in seeds within a fruit. These characteristics of the cassowary's digestive system protects seeds and assists with seed dispersal over large areas of the rainforest.
Because of its seed dispersal function, the cassowary is considered a "keystone species". Its loss from the ecosystem would significantly affect plant propagation in these tropical forests. Many seeds will only germinate once they have been passed through the digestive tract of a cassowary.
Cassowary dung, called a "scat", often containing hundreds, if not thousands of seeds. The dung helps many kinds of plants to propagate themselves. Other animals sometimes feed on seeds in cassowary droppings, helping to further distribute the seeds.
Cassowaries Propagate Trees Cassowary Helps Rare Tree Survive
The Ryparosa kurrangii is a rare tree found only in a very small area of the Daintree National Park in Queensland, Australia.
Recent scientific research has shown that only 4% of the seed from this tree self-germinate. However, when it has been eaten and passes through the digestive tract of a cassowary, the germination rate increases phenomenally to 92%. Similar results have been demonstrated with many over 120 other seeds too. It is obvious that without the cassowary's help, some of the oldest surviving rainforests in the world would be irrevocably changed forever.
Cassowaries are capable of breeding throughout the year provided the environmental conditions are suitable. The peak breeding season is usually between June and November.
The more dominant female will attract a male with her mating call and the display of her brightly coloured neck and wattles. The male will approach her cautiously, and if she views him favourably, he will dance in front of her to win her over. If she approves of him, the pair will spend at least a month together courting and mating.
The female cassowary lays 3 to 8 large, bright green or pale-blue-green eggs in a nest made from leaf litter. Each egg is about 9 by 14 centimetres long and weighs roughly half a kilo. Once the eggs are laid, she departs, leaving the male to incubate the eggs. She may then mate with as many as three different males during the mating season.
The male guards and incubates the eggs for about 50 days. He feeds only rarely during this period and may lose as much as 30% of his body weight as a result. The chicks, when they hatch, are light brown in colour and have stripes that camouflage them very well amongst the leaf litter and protects them from predators. This colouring disappears as the chick grows.
Cassowary chicks do not have a casque, which only begins growing in juveniles when their plumage changes. The father looks after the chicks and teaches them the way of the rainforest.
The young chicks make a whistling-peeping sound as they run about. The father may respond by clacking its beak, burping or even by making a booming noise that cassowaries are renowned for.
After about nine months, by which time the chicks can fend for themselves, the father chases them away to go and find their own territory.
The mortality rate amongst cassowary offspring is very high. Usually, only one in each brood survives into adulthood.
They reach sexual maturity at about three years. And live for up to forty years.
Cassowary Name How Did The Cassowary Get its Name?
There are two explanations as to how this cassowary got its name. One is that it is based on the French word "casque" which meaning helmet. The other is that it is from words in the Papuan language - 'kasu' meaning horned and 'weri' meaning head. The second explanation seems more plausible given that this bird is also found in Papua New Guinea.
The cassowary found in Australia is known as the Southern Cassowary or Double-wattled Cassowary. This is to distinguish it from its relatives found on the island of New Guinea to the north, which is referred to as the single-wattled cassowary.
Cassowary Casque Why Does the Cassowary Wear a Helmet?
Each cassowary wears a unique horn-like structure on top of its head referred to as a casque. Each of these structures has its own unique shape and grows throughout the animal's life. The size and shape of the casque are believed to be an indication of the animal's health, age, and sex (the female has a slightly larger casque).
The casque made of a sponge-like material covered with a thick outer layer of keratin – the same material our fingernails are made of. Although it looks solid, it is actually somewhat leathery and soft enough to be pressed. Inside the keratin outer sheath is a bony layer about 2-3mm thick beneath this is trabeculae (photo) which is a porous, spongy bone full of holey spaces. Beyond this is a large semi-hollow chamber with even more very delicate trabeculae with very fine blood vessels.
The purpose of this relatively large, odd-looking structure on top of the cassowary's head isn't fully understood. Several hypotheses have been put forward for this unusual characteristic.
It's a Crash Helmet! — One suggestion is that it is a "crash helmet" to protect the animal's head as it travels through the dense rainforest. Given that it doesn't seem to protect the cassowary's eyes and ears, the most vulnerable parts of its head, this is probably not its purpose. — unlikely
It's a Lethal Weapon — There is no evidence that the cassowary uses its head in fighting. Its casque is relatively weak and spongy and more likely to be seriously damaged in combat. — unlikely
It's a Tool — While the animal may use its head sometimes to knock down low hanging fruit or to shift leaf litter using its casque as a tool doesn't seem to be its primary purpose. — unlikely
It's a Fancy Headdress —Some have suggested that it is a fancy headdress to attract a mate. The casque, together with its colourful neck and wattles, may be intended to signal dominance, health, and virility. There seems to be some truth in this, similar in manner to the way peacocks use their brightly coloured necks and tail feathers. — probably
It's an Amplifier and Receiver — The cassowary makes a very low-frequency booming sound. Some say that the casque acts like a sound-box to modify, amplifier and resonate the bird's sounds. These low-frequency sounds are better transmitted long distances through the thick forest vegetation. The casque may also act like a radar dish (receiver) assisting in picking up other cassowaries calls. — probably
It's a Radiator—The latest theory is that the cassowary uses the casque to regulate its body temperature. The cassowary is covered in thick dark feathers and lives in tropical Queensland, where the weather is hot and humid. Many tropical birds use their beaks, wings to cool themselves. The cassowary has none of these. A close examination of the inside of the casque has shown that it laced with an extensive network of blood vessels. When the weather is hot, these blood vessels dilate, allowing more blood to flow in casque. Here it is cooled and by the air outside and then pumped back into the cassowary's body. When its colder, the vessels constrict, restricting the supply of blood to the casque.— most likely
Conclusion —The most likely reason for the cassowary's casque is to regulate its body temperature. Secondary uses are for display, as an amplifier to generate its low-frequency sounds, and as a radar dish to receive calls from other cassowaries.
Cassowary Attack Can a Cassowary Kill Humans?
The cassowary has a reputation for being dangerous to people and domestic animals. However, it prefers avoiding confrontations, especially with humans. But it is very brave and will stand its ground if approached. If an intruder encroaches on its space, the bird will stretch itself as tall as possible, ruffle its feathers and let out a loud hiss in an attempt to scare the intruder off. If this fails, the cassowary will lower its head and produce a deep booming sound as the pigmentation of its skin on its neck becomes much brighter and its body trembles. It will then attack fearlessly.
The Cassowary has very powerful legs with dagger-like claws that look like spikes that grow up to 18cm in length. It attacks by jumping in the air and kicking forward with its legs. Its lightning-fast kick, with dagger-sharp claws, is powerful enough to severely injure or even kill its victim. Once provoked it will keep up its attack chasing its victims at speeds up to 50 kilometres per hour.
Of the 200 or so cassowary attacks reported in Australia each year, over 70% occurred while humans were attempting to feed these birds. This is because cassowaries become assertive and demanding when they associate humans with food handouts. So don't feed the cassowary!
The last recorded death of a human due to a cassowary attack was in 2019 in Florida, USA. In another rather funny incident, a cassowary chased a jogger. She escaped by clambering up a tree where the cassowary cornered her for hours before walking away. So beware of the cassowary!
Cassowary Sounds What Does A Cassowary Sound Like?
The cassowary makes a deep low-frequency rumbling and booming sound. It produces these noises in its chest and neck by resonating air and then possibly amplifying the sound further with its casque. The cassowary produces the lowest sounding bird call in the world. These sounds can reach as low as 32 hertz, which is just above the human hearing range. Some humans have claimed that they can actually feel this low-frequency boom resonating in their bones. It is claimed that a cassowary call can be heard up to 5km away.
Cassowaries make a several sounds. For example, when disturbed in its forest habitat, it may produce a low rumbling sound and clack its bills in an attempt the discourage you from approaching any closer. If it feels threatened, it will puff itself up to its full height and make a hissing sound. If angered or ready to attack, it produces a deep booming sound.
Cassowary - The Dinosaur Bird Is The Cassowary a Dinosaur?
To many people the Cassowary with its crested-head, brightly coloured neck, scaly legs, and three-toed daggered feet conjures up images of a fearsome dinosaur - two-legged theropod raptor, like the Velociraptor from the movie Jurassic Park. The cassowary looks like a living relic from the age of the dinosaurs.
Palaeontologists have discovered 77-million-year-old dinosaur nests which they believe belonged to Cassowary-like dinosaurs known as caenagnathid or dromaeosaurid. These dinosaurs shared many characteristics with modern birds such as feathers, hollow bones, nesting, egg-brooding and care for their young. Scientists believe that birds evolved from dinosaurs such as these. Several ancient dinosaurs, such as the corythosaurus, a duck-billed dinosaur, had large crests on their heads similar to the cassowary.
Strictly speaking "no" – Scientists are hesitant to claim that any modern animals are dinosaurs. Is it fair to say that a Cassowary is descended from dinosaurs? The answer is "yes". Is it also fair to say that cassowaries
are probably the closest living creature to a dinosaur? The answer is probably "yes".
Cassowary - A Flightless Bird The Cassowary Can't Fly
The Cassowary belongs to a group of birds known as Ratites which also include the Ostrich, Emu, Kiwi, and Rhea. Ratites began to evolve separately around 60 million years ago on the super-continent of Gondwana before it broke up into the continents of Africa, South America, Australia, and Antarctica. This explains which ratites today are found in these continents. Their closest flying relative is the chicken-sized flight-capable tinamous of South America. Ratites are different from other birds in that they have a flat breastbone and are mostly large-bodied and terrestrial, that is they are rather big and they don't fly. Because they no longer fly, their wings have shrunk into non-functioning stubs. These birds also have a less sophisticated digestive system than modern birds.
Habitat Loss, Fragmentation and degradation
Large tracts of rainforest, home to these unique birds, has been chopped down for timber, banana and sugar-cane plantations and urban developments. This destruction of the tropical rainforests and fragmentation of habitat is the primary cause of the decline of the cassowary population. Over 80% of the original Cassowary habitat has been lost since European settlement in Australia in 1788.
Each cassowary requires approximately 70-300 hectares of rainforest to survive. Cassowary chicks, when about nine months old, must find their own territory. In an ever-shrinking forest, this has become near impossible. Only one in a usual clutch of four siblings survives into full adulthood.
Motor Vehicle Fatalities
The loss and fragmentation of their habitat have resulted in more cassowaries ventures near roads. Motor vehicle strikes account for about 50% of the annual cassowary death toll.
Hand Feeding by Humans
Feeding of cassowaries by humans encourages them to leave their natural habitat. It lures them into suburban areas where they are more prone to vehicle strikes and dog attacks.
Venturing into suburbia makes these unique birds, especially the young birds, vulnerable to dog attacks. Attacks by dogs account for about 18% of annual cassowary deaths.
Introduced Wild Pigs
Feral pigs destroy cassowary nests and feed on their eggs. They also compete with the cassowary for food.
Is the Cassowary Endangered? Cassowary Conservation Status
It is estimated that the number of cassowaries living in the wild has declined by over 50% since 1988 to around 1,200-1,500 wild birds.
They are classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN and endangered by the government of Australia.
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