Meet a Living Dinosaur: The Giant Cassowary

Posted on December 28, 2016 by Dr. Lynda

Have you noticed how impossible it is to skip the steps in the evolution of everything?

We like to think we make huge leaps, but really, it’s a series of steps. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back.

Meet a step, somewhere between dinosaurs and hummingbirds: the cassowary.

Image: Close-up of a cassowary's face
Source: Paul IJsendoorn // Flickr

Cassowaries are close relatives of the ostriches, emus, and kiwis, and like their kin, they are flightless. In fact, cassowaries have tiny vestigial wings that are barely recognizable as wings, ending in long sharp claw-like spikes.

Their brightly colored heads, more skin than feathers, add to the other-worldliness of these rare creatures.

Living Dinosaurs?

To my mind, they are reminiscent of the predatory Velociraptors from the 1993 movie Jurassic Park. This enormous bird, 6 feet tall (two meters) seems more like a missing link than something we might find pecking away in a barnyard.

Image: Two Cassowary birds with huge bodies and brightly colored heads
Source: Brian Gratwicke // Flickr

Cassowaries can weigh 125-pounds and they have dangerous claws on their feet just as the dinosaurs in the family called Dromaeosaurids. And like their ancestors, cassowaries will sometimes jump at an attacker feet-first, slashing through the air with their muscular legs.

Here’s a great scale chart to help us imagine the connections between dinosaurs from 65 million years ago, and the creature we are celebrating today as a wonder of nature:

Image: Velociraptor dinosaurs
Source: Durbed // Wikimedia

When you look at that chart, it seems like cassowaries would be a likely outcome of a trajectory from that line of dinosaurs.

But unlike their dinosaur cousins, cassowaries mainly eat fruit and mushrooms and only rarely pick at a dead animal they might come across in the forests where they live in Northeastern Australia, New Guinea, and some small islands.

So now let’s get to know this modern bird…

Remarkably fun science there, huh?

If you’d like to follow this line of thinking a bit more, we have two great articles that will extend your knowledge in several directions from here.

Check these out!

Dino-chicken

12 MINUTES

Turning Birds Into Dinosaurs

How could turning birds into dinosaurs improve our health? Even if you aren’t keen on the idea of a dino-chicken, genetic research, such as that done for the dino-chicken project, is opening up new doors in medical science

Dinosaur Feathers

6 MINUTES

Decoding Dino Feathers

Have you heard of the many surprises that have come to light since scientists have been uncovering the secrets of design, inherent in feathers?  This article was a delight to research and write. See why!

So there is our excursion into a little-known corner of the animal world! If you just can’t get enough of this sort of thing, check out our animal category.

Meanwhile, stay open, curious and hopeful!

~ Dr. Lynda

Oh!.. and don’t forget to scroll to the bottom of this page for some EWC articles I can recommend in other topic areas.

All of them will demonstrate this is still an amazing world!