Get ready to learn about a truly modern dinosaur.
The Dwarf Cassowary (Casuarius bennetti) is the smallest of the Cassowary species, and can be found in the mountain forests of Yapen Island, New Guinea and New Britain. It is also known as Bennett’s Cassowary, after the Australian naturalist who examined specimens that were brought to Australia from New Guinea. Other names include mooruk, the mountain cassowary, and the little cassowary. Cassowaries in general are the largest forest birds in the world.
Dwarf Cassowaries stand approximately 53 inches (135 cm) tall when measured from the ground to the top of their head. They weigh in at about 40 pounds (18 kg), and females tend to be larger than males. The Dwarf Cassowary’s head is capped with a triangular casque, which is a type of bony protuberance. It is not an extension of the bird’s skull, but rather a separate structure. Their beaks and faces are black, and their necks are brightly colored - mostly blue with some red patches. Females tend to have taller casques and brighter skin colors. Their plumage is jet black, and the plumage is coarse and stiff. This is thought to help protect them as they move through the forest vegetation, keeping them from being scratched. Dwarf Cassowaries have large, dagger-like claws on the inside toes of each foot.
The diet of Dwarf Cassowaries consists mainly of vegetation, like fruit that falls from trees or can be grazed from bushes. When foraging at ground level, they use their casques to sift through the leaf litter to look for other types of food, which include fungi, seeds, nuts insects and small animals like frogs and lizards. Dwarf Cassowaries have no natural predators, but introduced species like domestic dogs and pigs can hunt eggs and chicks, while dogs can also take down older birds. Human also sometimes hunt Dwarf Cassowaries for their meat and feathers. The birds can use their long claws to defend themselves by kicking, which can be lethal. They are diurnal but shy, and are rarely seen in the wild.
Little is known specifically about the breeding habits of Dwarf Cassowaries, but other cassowary species are quite similar. It’s likely that during the breeding season, May to November, the females tolerate the approaches of the males and eventually form mating pairs. Together, they find a nesting site and then complete the mating ritual. The female will lay up to six eggs in a season, maybe not all with the same male. After a 52-day incubation period, the chicks hatch, and rely on their fathers for care for the first seven or so months of their lives.
Dwarf Cassowaries communicate by making deep booming calls. It’s thought that the casque helps the call to resonate, and the vocalizations are just at the lower frequency range of human hearing. Dwarf Cassowaries serve their ecosystems by spreading the seeds of the forest, even the plants whose seeds are more toxic to other animals. Dwarf Cassowaries have quick digestion, and are able to spread the seeds more easily. They are considered to be a near-threatened species by the IUCN, due to extensive hunting and habitat degradation.
Source for all images used in this post.