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10 Facts About Cassowaries

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All birds are living dinosaurs, but the dagger-clawed cassowary especially looks the part. Here’s everything you need to know about the majestic—and terrifying—avians.

1. THE SOUTHERN CASSOWARY IS EARTH’S SECOND-HEAVIEST BIRD.

Scientists currently recognize three living species of cassowary—all of which are restricted to New Guinea, northeastern Australia, and nearby islands. Among them, the aptly-named dwarf cassowary is the smallest, with an average height of around 3 feet. Then there’s the northern cassowary, an orange-throated behemoth that can stand nearly 5 feet tall. But the southern cassowary is bigger than both: From toe to head-crest, this avian can stand 5 foot 6 inches tall. The only two birds that grow taller are ostriches and emus. Southern cassowaries do exceed the latter in weight, though; adults often tip the scales at 125 pounds. Behind ostriches, this makes them the second-heaviest birds on the planet.

2. THESE BIRDS HAVE DANGEROUS FEET.

In certain parts of their Australian range, you might come across warning signs that read “Be Cass-o-wary.” Heed this advice. Normally, cassowaries are shy, reclusive animals. But when threatened or cornered, they can become aggressive, striking back with powerful head-butts and pecks. The most dangerous weapon in their arsenal is a razor-sharp claw on the inner toe of each foot, which, in southern cassowaries, grows to be 5 inches long. The birds deliver a series of downward kicks with their hind legs that have been known to break bones and cause serious lacerations. With a well-placed strike, the claws can rip open a human belly—or throat.

3. REARING CHICKS IS THE FATHER’S JOB.

Come mating season, a female will breed with several partners. After laying her eggs, she abandons them, at which point the males take over. For the next 50 days or so, each cassowary dad steadfastly incubates his clutch. During this period, an expectant father never leaves the nest, not even to eat or drink; he even enters a strange state where he doesn’t even need to go to the bathroom until the eggs hatch. Once they do, dad spends the next nine months raising and defending his chicks. The male also teaches his growing birds how to forage so that when he eventually chases them away, the youngsters can fend for themselves.

4. CASSOWARIES ARE SURPRISINGLY GOOD JUMPERS.

What’s scarier than a 125-pound modern dinosaur with killer claws? One that can leap 5 feet off the ground. To get the most out of those toe daggers, cassowaries will sometimes jump feet-first at an attacker, with the claws slashing downward in midair. They’re great sprinters to boot, with a top running speed of 30 miles per hour.

5. A SPIKE IS HIDDEN ON EACH WING

Cassowaries are closely akin to ostriches, emus, and kiwis. Like their better-known cousins, the casqued birds have useless vestigial wings. On the tip of each is a small claw that probably serves no purpose.

6. THEY MOSTLY EAT FRUIT.

Wild cassowaries mainly dine on assorted fruits and berries that fall to the ground in the forests they call home. Every day, the typical southern specimen gobbles up roughly 11 pounds’ worth. The big birds also eat plenty of fungi—along with the occasional dead animal for some extra protein.

Cassowaries are prone to hunt down live critters like rodents, snails, and lizards every so often. Poop is yet another item on the menu. Cassowary dung usually contains half-digested fruit, which still has plenty of nutritional value, so these guys are known to devour each other’s droppings—as well as their own. Waste not, want not!

7. THE FUNCTION OF THEIR ODD CRESTS—OR “CASQUES”—IS A MYSTERY

With royal blue necks and shaggy, jet-black feathers, cassowaries look like no other birds on planet earth. Their most distinctive feature is the helmet-like casque that sits above the eyes. A bony protrusion covered with a sheath of keratin (the material which makes up your fingernails), this ornament begins to develop when the bird is around 2 years old. Scientists have long speculated—sometimes wildly—about its purpose. One theory is that casques help the animals push aside forest underbrush. The structures might also be used as a way to attract the opposite sex.

A more interesting hypothesis involves how these birds communicate. Cassowaries emit very deep bellows—the lowest bird calls known to man. Perhaps their casques amplify and broadcast these sounds by acting as a resonation chamber. It’s believed that certain crested dinosaurs (like Parasaurolophus of Jurassic Park fame) produced various calls in the exact same way.

8. THEY’VE BEEN KNOWN TO LIVE FOR DECADES (AT LEAST IN ZOOS).

Naturalists don’t know how old a wild cassowary can expect to get. That said, a few southern cassowaries have reached their 40th birthdays in captivity. Under human care, northern cassowaries can top that figure—one bird reached the age of 48 and another specimen may have been as old as 61 when it died. Meanwhile, the average lifespan for captive dwarf cassowaries is just 26 years.

9. CASSOWARIES HAVE STRANGE GENITALIA.

Both sexes sport a phallic-looking “pseudo-penis” appendage. However, it isn’t connected to any of their reproductive organs internally. During copulation, the male ejaculates through his cloaca—an orifice that lies at the base of the pseudo-penis and not the tip. Males also have what’s usually described as a “vagina-like cavity.” When they aren’t mating, the pseudo-penis is turned inside out and retracted into this orifice.

Such peculiar anatomy has given the cassowary a unique place in New Guinean culture and folklore. For example, the native Mianmin people tell stories about a human woman with a penis who somehow transformed into a cassowary. Another indigenous group, the Umeda, put on a regular ceremony called “ida.” A big event that lasts for two days and nights, the ritual involves a fertility dance which calls for two male dancers who represent a pair of cassowaries. Each player is given a heavy mask and is coated with charcoal from head to toe.

10. AT LEAST ONE UNFORTUNATE HUMAN HAS BEEN KILLED BY A CASSOWARY.

In April 1926, 16-year-old Phillip McLean and his younger brother, Granville, set two family dogs on a wild cassowary near their farm in north Queensland. Things quickly got out of hand. The bird fought back, driving away Granville and one of the canines with a couple of kicks. This didn’t deter Philip or the other dog, as both remained in the fray. Suddenly, the cassowary charged Philip, who fell backwards while trying to flee. Pushing its advantage, it pounced onto the boy and gouged away at his throat. A short while later, the elder McLean died of blood loss. To date, this is the only verified report of a cassowary taking human life.

In 1999, Christopher P. Kofron—then a ranger with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife service—analyzed 150 documented cassowary-on-human attacks. Twenty-two percent of these cases came down to the bird defending itself, its eggs, or its chicks. Another 5 percent were triggered by somebody who’d gotten too close to a cassowary’s food.

The remaining 73 percent of the incidents involved a cassowary that associated people with free meals. For decades, well-meaning Queenslanders have been handing out bananas, watermelons, and other treats to these dangerous animals. This has led many cassowaries to lose their natural shyness around humans in populated areas. Today, feeding a wild one is against the law, but the practice still continues—so if you live in cassowary country, make like you're at the zoo and don't feed the birds.

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From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

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25 Dapper Outfit Choices for Fashionable Pets
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Lavishing your furry friends with adorable attire is a benefit of pet ownership that they don't mention on the adoption forms. Whether you prefer practical clothing like sweaters and jackets or statement pieces like bow ties and tutus, these dapper duds are perfect for a howl-iday or "gotcha day" gift, or simply for saying, "Who's the cutest little pupper in pajamas? You are!"

1. CASHMERE DOG SWEATER; FROM $165

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This classic cable-knit cashmere sweater is a sophisticated look for Fido or Finn. Get it from Canine Styles, a luxury dog emporium in New York City that has plenty of posh and preppy outfits.

Find It: Canine Styles

2. TOGGLE DOG COAT; $85

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This toggle coat (available in orange, navy, and tan) is as fashionable as it is warm. Made of Melton wool, it has Velcro closures to make getting dressed easy. It's great for long walks in the country.

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3. DOG TUXEDO; FROM $90

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This satin tuxedo is perfect for the canine members of your wedding party, though it will brighten up any other occasion as well. The custom, handmade outfit comes complete with a snappy bow tie.

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The queen of your castle can feel like a Disney princess in her very own version of Belle's iconic yellow dress from Beauty and the Beast. This ball gown is made from yellow crepe satin with chiffon overlay on the bodice and features hand-painted gold detailing on the skirt. Enchanted rose not included.

Find It: Etsy

5. POODLE SKIRT OUTFIT FOR DOGS; $26

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What if you could buy a 1950s poodle skirt for your poodle? This retro dress is comprised of a pink poodle skirt, striped bodice, and sequined belt, and comes with a bow headband.

Find It: Amazon

6. RIBBED CROCHET BUNNY SWEATER; $25

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Etsy

Your snuggle-bunny will look like a little fancy-pants in this ribbed crochet sweater. Choose from seven colors, including this dashing deep red.

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7. BESPOKE MONOGRAM DOG SWEATER; FROM $155

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Bespoke clothing isn't just for humans: British luxury dog clothing brand Ruby Rufus will make your pooch a custom monogram sweater made with 100 percent Italian cashmere. You can even order it in your dog's favorite color.

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8. HOT PINK DOG TUTU; $17

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Tutus look absolutely adorable on tiny humans and animals alike. If your pooch wants to get in touch with its inner ballerina, then grab this hot pink number from Etsy. Rave reviews are a sure thing.

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9. PINK DOG POLO SHIRT; $35

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This pink polo shirt is perfect for your preppy fur baby. It features not one but a veritable multitude of crocodiles. They'll be the most dapper dog at the country club.

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10. DOG BARN COAT WITH BROWN CORDUROY COLLAR; $85

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When it's time for a walk, your dog will look effortlessly chic in this fancy barn coat. It comes in navy, cranberry, orange, hot pink, and loden and features convenient pockets for anyone with opposable thumbs.

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11. WHITE PET NECK RUFF; $26

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Your canine or kitty will look like their painting belongs in London's National Portrait Gallery with this Elizabethan neck ruff.

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12. CHICKEN SWEATER; $25

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Chickens can get cold when they're strutting around outside. A sweater (well, more like sweater vest) for your bird can also help prevent feather picking during molting season. Or, it can simply keep them warm while they stare pensively across a snowy landscape.

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13. PET CIRCLE SCARF; $15

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An infinity scarf is a perfect burst of color on a dreary early morning walk. The proprietor of Mitten Made on Etsy originally designed this wool snood for her miniature Dachshund to help keep her warm during the long, cold winters in Michigan.

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14. FAB DOG TRAVEL RAINCOAT; FROM $18

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This timeless yellow rain slicker will look great on any puppy when it's raining cats and dogs. It's made of 100 percent waterproof nylon shell that keeps fur dry. Bonus: It's perfect for an It Halloween costume.

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15. LACE CAT OR DOG COLLAR; FROM $10

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This handmade, white lace collar is a must-have for fancy felines. It's also embellished with a large rhinestone.

Find It: Etsy

16. FITWARM PENGUIN PAJAMAS FOR DOGS; FROM $10

Fitwarm Cute Penguin Xmas Dog Pajamas
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Keep your pupper warm on cold winter nights with these penguin PJs. They're great for doggie sleepovers or lazy weekends on the couch watching Netflix.

Find It: Amazon

17. PLAID CASHMERE DOG COAT; FROM $225

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Your dog will look like a proper gentleman in this smart plaid peacoat. This fine garment is made of cashmere with a faux fur lining and leather buttons, and is a perfect shield against chill and fog.

Find It: Canine Styles

18. SATIN PET BOW TIE; FROM $8

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This satin doggie bow tie is perfect for any occasion. It comes in several colors and features a Velcro fastener that makes it easy to attach to a collar. Plus, 10 percent of every sale goes to charity: specifically to SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and Feeding Pets of the Homeless.

Find It: Etsy

19. RED DOG DRESS; FROM $34

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Your good boy or girl will look red carpet-ready in this elegant gown. The voluminous tulle skirt is to die for, and each bow is embellished with beads. Custom orders are also available.

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20. DOG TIE; FROM $13

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Your pooch will be ready to stun at any black tie event. This tie is designed like a collar, making it easy to dress your four-legged friend. This Etsy store gives back: 10 perfect of all sales are donated to an animal protection association.

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21. NAUTICAL DOG DRESS WITH MATCHING LEASH; $20

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Perfect for a day on the town or setting sail in a schooner, this is the sailor outfit you never knew your best furry friend needed. This vintage throwback also comes with a matching leash.

Find It: BaxterBoo

22. TARTAN FLANNEL PET BOW TIE; $5.50

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Your dog or cat will turn heads in this flannel tartan bow tie. It has a convenient elastic loop that slides over your pup's collar.

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23. PUCCI DOG SHIRT; $23

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Only the fanciest dogs wear, err, Pucci. Grab this punny "designer" t-shirt for your pup. This high-quality cotton statement piece is perfect for small breeds.

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24. PINK POLKA DOT AND LACE DOG HARNESS DRESS; $20

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This feminine pink polka dot dress is simply adorable. It features a convenient built-in harness and comes with a matching leash.

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25. PET SWEATER VEST; $6

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Your dog or cat will look like an erudite Oxford professor in this sweater vest. Note that the button on the pocket is shaped like a bone.

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