Friday, May 31, 2013

E is for EMU

Well, what did you expect but E for EMU??  It just had to be and perhaps even we Aussies may learn something we didn't know about this one.

The emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) is the largest bird native to Australia and the only extant member of the genus Dromaius.  It is the second-largest extant bird in the world by height. after its ratite relative, the ostrich.  The largest emu can reach up to 150-190 cm (59-75 in) in height, 1-1.3 m (3.3-4.3 ft) at the shoulder.  In length measured from bill to the tail, emus range from 139-164 cm (55-65 in), with males averaging 148.5 cm (58.5 in) and females averaging 156.8 cm (61.7 in).  They weigh between 18-60 kg (40-130 lb), with an average of 31.5 kg (69 lb) and 36.9 kg (81 lb) in males and females, respectively.  Females are usually larger than males by a small amount, and are substantially wider across the rump.  There are three subspecies of emus in Australia.  (I didn't realise that).  The emu is common over most of mainland Australia, although it avoids heavily populated areas, dense fores, and arid areas.  We have a lot of emus in Western Australia and they can be a danger on the highways, both to themselves and the motorist.  I have often seen flocks of them when holidaying in our south-west.

The soft-feathered brown, flightless birds reach up to 2 metres (6.6 ft) in height.  They have long thin necks and legs and can travel great distances at a fast, economical trot and, if necessary, can sprint at 50 km/hr (31 mph).  Their long legs allow them to take strides of up to 275 cms (9.02 ft).  They are opportunistically nomadic and may travel long distances to find food, they feed on a variety of plants and insects, but have been known to go for weeks without food.  Emus ingest stones, glass shards and bits of metal to grind food in the digestive system.  They drink infrequently, but take in copious fluids when the opportunity arises.  Emus will sit in water and are also

able to swim.They are curious birds who are known to follow and watch other animals and humans.  (I remember being followed quite closely by an emu some years ago in a wildlife reserve while holidaying at Manjimup...quite a bit scary 'cos they make quite a weird noise).  Emus do not sleep continuously at night but in several short stints sitting down.

Emus use their strongly clawed feet as a defence mechanism.  Their legs are among the strongest of any animal, allowing them to rip metal wire fences.  They are endowed with good eyesight and hearing, which allowed them to detect predators in their vicinity.  The plumage varies regionally, matching the surrounding environment and improving its camouflage.  The feather structure prevents heat from flowing into the skin, permitting emus to be active during the midday heat.  They can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and thermoregulate effectively.

Emus breed in May and June and are not monogamous; fighting among females for a mate is common and females can mate several times and lay several batches of eggs in one season.  The animals put on weight before the breeding season, and the male does the incubation, losing significant weight during this time as he does not eat.

The eggs hatch after around eight weeks. and the young are nurtured by their fathers.  They reach full size at around six months, but can remain with their family until the next breeding season half a year later.

Emus can live to between 10 and 20 years in the wild and are predated by dingos, eagles and hawks.  They can jump and kick to avoid dingos, but against eagles and hawks, they can only run and swerve.

There are reports the emu was first sighted by European explorers in 1696 when they made a brief visit to the coast of Western Australia.  It was thought to have been spotted on the east coast of Australia before 1788 when the first European settlement occurred.  It was first described 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 on a specimen from the Sydney, Australia area, which was referred to as New Holland at the time.  He collaborated on Phillip's book and provided the first descriptions of and names for many Australian bird species; its name in Latin means "fast-footed New Hollander".  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 Portugese explorers to describe the related cassowary in Australia and New Guinea.  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.  In Victoria, some terms for the emu were 'barrimal' in the Dja Dja Wurrung language, 'myoure' in Gunai, and 'coum' in Jardwadjali.  It was known as 'murawung' or 'birabayin' to the local Eora and Darug inhabitants of the Sydney basin.

The Tasmanian Emu and King Island Emu subspecies that previously inhabited Tasmanian and King Island became extinct after the European settlement of Australia in 1788, and the distribution of the mainland subspecies has been influenced by human activities.  Once common on the east coast, emus are now uncommon there; by contrast the development of agriculture and the provision of water for stock in the interior of the continent have increased the range of the emu in arid regions, and it is of "Least Concern" for conservation.  They were a food and fuel source for indigenous Australians and early European settlers.  Emus are farmed for their meat, oil, and leather. Emu is lean meat and while it is often claimed by marketers that the oil has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects, this has not been scientifically verified in humans.  The emu is an important cultural icon of Australia.  It appears on our coat of arms, various coins, features prominently in Indigenous Australian mythology, and hundreds of places are named after this bird.  (We have Emu Point in Albany on our south coast and of course there is always Emu Bitter and Emu Export, beer brewed right here in the sunny West).


  1. Are we the only nation which eats the animals from its coat of arms? Healthy lean meat or not, I am not very comfortable with the idea, though I am not quite certain why.
    I adore the little stripey chicks, and have seen some beautiful carved emu eggs in museums. Their colours are unusual and, I think, beautiful.

  2. That is an excellent question EC. I am sure the Brits don't eat lions or unicorns!! There could well be some nations that do eat their national 'emblems' but I don't know of any.
    Those chicks are really cute aren't they. I meant to show a carved emu egg here but had so many pics I thought I'd already put too many. I have a "blown" emu egg that my mum collected on one of her travels around Australia and I never know quite what to do with it. They are just so big but fortunately not fragile so it is still in one piece. It's amazing the things one 'inherits' from one's parents!!

  3. We have an emu farm not far from us. I haven't tried the meat but it is purported to be very healthy for you.

  4. Now that is truly interesting. I've not eaten emu either but as with kangaroo meat, some of the information can be a bit suspect. It's always difficult to find the true facts. I cooked and ate kangaroo years ago when my first husband used to go shooting but I've not eaten it since then.