About the Australian Emu (Dromiaus Novaehollandiae)

The Aboriginal "Emu in the sky"(Below). In Western astronomy terms, the Southern Cross is on the right, and Scorpius on the left; the head of the emu is the Coalsack.

By en:User:Rayd8 - en-wp, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5444580

Emu Dreaming

The emu has a prominent place in Australian Aboriginal mythology, including a creation myth of the Yuwaalaraay and other groups in New South Wales who say that the sun was made by throwing an emu's egg into the sky; the bird features in numerous aetiological stories told across a number of Aboriginal groups.[89] One story from Western Australia holds that a man once annoyed a small bird, who responded by throwing a boomerang, severing the arms of the man and transforming him into a flightless emu.[90]The Kurdaitcha man of Central Australia is said to wear sandals made of emu feathers to mask his footprints. Many Aboriginal language groups throughout Australia have a tradition that the dark dust lanes in the Milky Way represent a giant emu in the sky. Several of the Sydney rock engravings depict emus,[91] and the birds are mimicked in indigenous dances.[92]

Emus were used as a source of food by indigenous Australians and early European settlers. Emus are inquisitive birds and have been known to approach humans if they see unexpected movement of a limb or piece of clothing. In the wild, they may follow and observe people.[54]  Aboriginal Australians only killed emus out of necessity, and frowned on anyone who hunted them for any other reason.[71] In the areas in which it was endemic, the emu was an important source of meat to Aboriginal Australians. They used the fat as bush medicine and rubbed it into their skin. It served as a valuable lubricant, was used to oil wooden tools and utensils such as the coolamon, and was mixed with ochre to make the traditional paint for ceremonial body adornment.[75]


Emus were first reported as having been seen by Europeans when explorers visited the western coast of Australia in 1696; this was an expedition led by Dutch captain Willem de Vlamingh who was searching for survivors of a ship that had gone missing two years earlier.[6] The birds were known on the eastern coast before 1788, when the first Europeans settled there.[7] The birds were first mentioned under the name of the "New Holland cassowary" in Arthur Phillip's Voyage to Botany Bay, published in 1789.  

The species was named by ornithologist John Latham in 1790 based on a specimen from the Sydney area of Australia, a country which was known as New Holland at the time.[3][10] He collaborated on Phillip's book and provided the first descriptions of, and names for, many Australian bird species; Dromaius comes from a Greek word meaning "racer" and is the Latin term for New Holland, so the name can be rendered as "fast-footed New Hollander".[11] In his original 1816 description of the emu, the French ornithologistLouis Jean Pierre Vieillot used two generic names, first Dromiceius and later Dromaius.[12] It has been a point of contention ever since as to which name should be used; the latter is more correctly formed, but the convention intaxonomy is that the first name given to an organism stands, unless it is clearly a typographical error.[13] Most modern publications, including those of the Australian government,[5] use Dromaius, with Dromiceius mentioned as an alternative spelling.[5]

The etymology of the common name "emu" is uncertain, but is thought to have come from an Arabic word for large bird that was later used by Portuguese explorers to describe the related cassowary in Australia and New Guinea.[14] Another theory is that it comes from the word "ema", which is used in Portuguese to denote a large bird akin to an ostrich or crane.[7][15] In Victoria, some terms for the emu were Barrimal in the Dja Dja Wurrung language, myoure in Gunai, and courn in Jardwadjali.[16] The birds were known as murawung or birabayin to the local Eora and Darug inhabitants of the Sydney basin.[17]


The emu is the second largest bird in the world, only being exceeded in size by the ostrich;[31] the largest individuals can reach up to 150 to 190 cm (59 to 75 in) in height. Measured from the bill to the tail, emus range in length from 139 to 164 cm (55 to 65 in), with males averaging 148.5 cm (58.5 in) and females averaging 156.8 cm (61.7 in).[32] Emus weigh between 18 and 60 kg (40 and 132 lb), with an average of 31.5 and 37 kg (69 and 82 lb) in males and females, respectively.[32] Females are usually slightly larger than males and are substantially wider across the rump.[33]

Emus are diurnal birds and spend their day foraging, preening their plumage with their beak, dust bathing and resting. They are generally gregarious birds apart from the breeding season, and while some forage, others remain vigilant to their mutual benefit.[43] They are able to swim when necessary, although they rarely do so unless the area is flooded or they need to cross a river.[35]

Emus begin to settle down at sunset and sleep during the night. They do not sleep continuously but rouse themselves several times during the night.  Emus typically awake from deep sleep once every ninety minutes or so and stand upright to feed briefly or defecate. This period of wakefulness lasts for ten to twenty minutes, after which they return to slumber.[44] Overall, an emu sleeps for around seven hours in each twenty-four-hour period. Young emus usually sleep with their neck flat and stretched forward along the ground surface.[44]

The vocalisations of emus mostly consist of various booming and grunting sounds. The booming is created by the inflatable throat pouch.[14][32][33] Most of the booming is done by females; it is part of the courtship ritual, is used to announce the holding of territory and is issued as a threat to rivals. A high-intensity boom is audible 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) away, while a low, more resonant call, produced during the breeding season, may at first attract mates and peaks while the male is incubating the eggs.[29] Most of the grunting is done by males. It is used principally during the breeding season in territorial defence, as a threat to other males, during courtship and while the female is laying. Both sexes sometimes boom or grunt during threat displays or on encountering strange objects.[29]

Emus forage in a diurnal pattern and eat a variety of native and introduced plant species. The diet depends on seasonal availability with such plants as Acacia, Casuarina and grasses being favoured.[29] They also eat insects and other arthropods, including grasshoppers and crickets, beetles, cockroaches, ladybirds, Bogong and cotton-boll moth larvae, ants, spiders and millipedes.[29][48] This provides a large part of their protein requirements.[49] In Western Australia, food preferences have been observed in travelling emus; they eat seeds from Acacia aneura until the rains arrive, after which they move on to fresh grass shoots and caterpillars; in winter they feed on the leaves and pods of Cassia and in spring, they consumegrass hoppers and the fruit of Santalum acuminatum, a sort of quandong.[32][50] They are also known to feed on wheat,[51] and any fruit or other crops that they can access, easily climbing over high fences if necessary.[49] Emus serve as an important agent for the dispersal of large viable seeds, which contributes to floral biodiversity.[50][52] Emus drink infrequently, but ingest large amounts when the opportunity arises. They typically drink once a day, first inspecting the water body and surrounding area in groups before kneeling down at the edge to drink. They prefer being on firm ground while drinking, rather than on rocks or mud, but if they sense danger, they often stand rather than kneel. If not disturbed, they may drink continuously for ten minutes. Due to the scarcity of water sources, emus are sometimes forced to go without water for several days. In the wild, they often share water holes with kangaroos, other birds and animals; they are wary and tend to wait for the other animals to leave before they quench their thirst.[54]

Female emus court the males; the female's plumage darkens slightly and the small patches of bare, featherless skin just below the eyes and near the beak turn turquoise-blue. The colour of the male's plumage remains unchanged, although the bare patches of skin also turn light blue. When courting, females stride around, pulling their neck back while puffing out their feathers and emitting low, monosyllabic calls that have been compared to drum beats. This calling can occur when males are out of sight or more than 50 metres (160 ft) away. Once the male's attention has been gained, the female circles her prospective mate at a distance of 10 to 40 metres (30 to 130 ft). As she does this, she looks at him by turning her neck, while at the same time keeping her rump facing towards him. If the male shows interest in the parading female, he will move closer; the female continues the courtship by shuffling further away but continuing to circle him.[40][41]
If a male is interested, he will stretch his neck and erect his feathers, then bend over and peck at the ground. He will circle around and sidle up to the female, swaying his body and neck from side to side, and rubbing his breast against his partner's rump. Often the female will reject his advances with aggression, but if amenable, she signals acceptance by squatting down and raising her rump.[41][57] The pair mate every day or two, and every second or third day the female lays one of a clutch of five to fifteen very large, thick-shelled, green eggs. The eggs are on average 13 cm × 9 cm (5.1 in × 3.5 in) and weigh between 450 and 650 g (1.0 and 1.4 lb).[58] 

The male becomes broody after his mate starts laying, and may begin to incubate the eggs before the clutch is complete. From this time on, he does not eat, drink, or defecate, and stands only to turn the eggs, which he does about ten times a day.[61] He develops a brood patch, a bare area of wrinkled skin which is in intimate contact with the eggs.[62] Over the course of the eight-week incubation period, he will lose a third of his weight and will survive on stored body fat and on any morning dew that he can reach from the nest. As with many other Australian birds, such as the superb fairywren, infidelity is the norm for emus, despite the initial pair bond: once the male starts brooding, the female usually wanders off, and may mate with other males and lay in multiple nests; thus, as many as half the chicks in a brood may not be fathered by the incubating male, or even by either parent, as emus also exhibit brood parasitism.[63]

Economic Value

The birds were a food and fuel source for early European settlers, and are now farmed, in Australia and elsewhere, for their meat, oil and leather. Commercial emu farming started in Western Australia around 1970.[77] The commercial industry in the country is based on stock bred in captivity, and all states except Tasmania have licensing requirements to protect wild emus. Outside Australia, emus are farmed on a large scale in North America, with about 1 million birds in the US,[78] Peru, and China, and to a lesser extent in some other countries. Emus breed well in captivity, and are kept in large open pens to avoid the leg and digestive problems that arise from inactivity.

Emus are farmed primarily for their meat, leather, feathers and oil, and 95% of the carcass can be used.[78] Emu meat is a low-fat product (less than 1.5% fat), and is comparable to other lean meats. Emu fat is rendered to produce oil for cosmetics, dietary supplements, and therapeutic products.[82]  This consists mainly of fatty acids of which oleic acid (42%),linoleic and palmitic acids (21% each) are the most prominent components.[82] It also contains various anti-oxidants, notably carotenoids and flavones.[82]   Emu oil has been linked to the easing of gastrointestinal inflammation, and tests on rats have shown that it has a significant effect in treating arthritis and joint pain, more so than olive or fish oils.[85]   It has been scientifically shown to improve the rate of wound healing, but the mechanism responsible for this effect is not understood.[85] A 2008 study has claimed that emu oil has a better anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory potential than ostrich oil, and linked this to emu oil's higher proportion of unsaturated to saturated fatty acids.[83][85][86]


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