KINGDOM: Animalia (Animals)
PHYLUM: Chordata (Possessing a notochord)
CLASS: Aves (Birds)
ORDER: Casuariiformes (Cassowary and Emu)
FAMILY: Dromaiidae (Large, flightless birds aka ratites)
GENUS: Dromaius (Large, flightless birds aka ratites)
SPECIES: Dromaius novaehollandiae (Emu)
Emus are only found on the continent of Australia.
Emus are large, flightless birds with long necks and legs. The plumage is grey-brown of a shaggy appearance, with their pale blue neck showing through sparse feathers. Emus have three toes on their feet with sharp claws, which are its major defensive attribute, and are used in combat to inflict wounds on opponents by kicking. The sexes are similar in appearance.
Emus live in various habitats across Australia, both inland and near the coast. They are most common in forest areas and savannah woodland, and least common in heavily populated districts and arid areas.
Emus eat a variety of plant species as well as insects and other arthropods, including grasshoppers and crickets, beetles, cockroaches, ladybirds, Bogong and cotton-ball moth larvae, ants, spiders and millipedes. Small stones are swallowed to assist in the grinding up and digestion of the plant material. They also eat charcoal. Emus drink infrequently, but ingest large amounts when the opportunity arises.
Emus are generally solitary birds, but when advantageous they will form large groups, i.e when migrating in groups to find food. Emus will share nests during breeding season and during incubation of eggs will abandon their nomadic tendencies.
Emus are polygynandrous and females may engage multiple partners. A single nest may contain the eggs of several different females. Males construct the nest in a semi-sheltered hollow on the ground, using bark, grass, sticks and leaves to line it. Males are also responsible for incubating eggs.
Emus generally range in a 5-10 square km area, but this area may change dynamically as they are nomadic.
Females can store sperm and will lay eggs about every 3 days after the first clutch. Incubation takes about 56 days. Newly hatched chicks are active and can leave the nest within a few days of hatching. Males guard the chicks for up to seven months, teaching them how to find food. During their early life, the young emus are defended by their father, who adopts a belligerent stance towards other emus, including the mother. Emus typically live between 10-20 years.
Emus are preyed upon by dingo, feral dogs, raptors, monitor lizards, red foxes, and humans.
The threats faced by emus include the clearance and fragmentation of areas of suitable habitat, deliberate slaughter, collisions with vehicles and predation of the eggs and young.
Did you know?
- The emu is the national bird of Australia
- The vocalisations of emus mostly consist of various booming and grunting sounds
- On very hot days, emus pant to maintain their body temperature
- Emu eggs are a dark green color, and look almost like an avocado
- Emus can swim!