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Natural Curiosities

Natural Curiosities, Part 1: Emu Feathers

My wife recently ordered me a bag of assorted natural curiosities from a seller on Etsy, Biophilia Supply. They sell ethically sourced nature items for use in decoration or education. In my case, it was for education. I’ve collected the odd natural curiosity myself from time to time (a few insect exuviae, a few dead insects, and a few fossils) and maybe I’ll write about some of those at some point in the future. The excitement of this Biophilia Supply grab bag of items was the variety and rarity of the items themselves. Through this series of posts I’m going to explore the items I received, and the organisms they came from.

Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) Body Feathers

Name Discussion: Dromaius novaehollandiae. Dromaius means “racer” in Greek, and the species name “novaehollandiae” is a Latinized version of New Holland, which is what Dutch explorers and sailors called Australia for a while in the 1700s.

Range, Relatives and the Ecology of a Flightless Bird: I have never seen an Emu, except maybe in a zoo, because they live across mainland Australia (though they used to also live on the neighbouring island of Tasmania). There also used to be two other species in the Family Dromaiidae (D. ater and D. baudinianus), but they were both island populations exterminated by humans in the 1800s. Their feathers have “barbs so widely spaced that they give the plumage a loose hairy appearance” (Davies 2002). I’m not exactly sure why Emus have hair-like feathers, but they certainly don’t need them to be stiff like the flight feathers of many other birds because Emus can’t fly. Emus can grow to almost 2 meters tall, and are the second tallest bird in the world, only behind the Ostrich. Emus are nomadic birds, traveling to places that have recently experienced rain and will gather in large numbers at abundant food or water sources. Although they inhabit the edges of deserts, they are always on the move to reach the most productive areas. Another adaptation for their dry and difficult habitat is to eat the richest foods they can find: Emus eat fruit and seeds as well as various species of insects.

Photo By JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=92381514

Next up: Bison hair, Porcupine quills or the shed skin of a snake.

Reference:

Davies, S. J. J. F. Ratites and Tinamous, 2002.