[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

EXTINCT EMUS



There was some discussion last week of recently extinct island dwelling emus. Tim gave a summary and pretty much got it right. I have some text lying round on this subject - it may or may not be of any interest. The situation with the island dwelling emu species is pretty complex, and has only recently been sorted out.

The Kangaroo Island emu (aka Black emu/Dwarf emu) is best known for the mounted specimen preserved in the Natural History Museum at Paris: it?s a short dark emu maintained when alive at the Jardin des Plantes (JDP from hereon) and collected in 1803 by Captain Baudin?s French naval expedition. There?s a good photo of it in John- Christophe Balouet?s _Vanished Species of the World_. This specimen is apparently the holotype for _Dromaius diemenianus_ and is sometimes, confusingly, called _D. ater_ (see below). In some texts it?s regarded as a subspecies of _D. novaehollandiae_. The problem is that the Baudin expedition collected emus from King Island as well as from Kangaroo Island and it?s impossible to tell which of these islands the JDP specimen was collected from. _D. diemenianus_ is thus based on a specimen that is not a demonstrable Kangaroo Island emu.

Parker (1984) therefore argued that the name _D. diemenianus_ could not be applied to Kangaroo Island emus. He designated Kangaroo Island skeletal material as the new type for this species and, as it was now without a name, coined it _D. baudinianus_. This is the valid name for the Kangaroo Island emu, which is thus no longer known from any good skin/mounted specimen.

King Island emus are still (to my knowledge) _D. ater_, though confusingly authors had previously used this name for the JDP specimen. _D. minor_ was also used for King Island emus prior to Parker (1984). It?s also unfortunate that the name _D. diemenianus_ is very similar to _D. novaehollandiae diemenesis_, the (also extinct) Tasmanian emu. I think Adam Yates mentioned that there are emus on Kangaroo Island today, these apparently descend from eight birds introduced in the 1920s. It?s worth knowing that acclimatisation societies also, bizarrely, introduced emus to New Zealand during the 1900s. Articles on supposed contemporary moa sightings often state that emus have never been introduced to NZ ? this is not so (my source is a book I do not have to hand entitled _They Dined on Eland_: it?s all about the history of the acclimatisation societies).

Incidentally emus are the only birds for which a case of identical twins has been verified. Yes, two baby birds hatching from the same egg.

Parker, S. A. 1984. The extinct Kangaroo Island emu, a hitherto unrecognised species. _Bulletin of the British Ornithologists? Club_ 104, 19-22.

DARREN NAISH
PALAEOBIOLOGY RESEARCH GROUP
School of Earth, Environmental & Physical Sciences
UNIVERSITY OF PORTSMOUTH
Burnaby Building
Burnaby Road                           email: darren.naish@port.ac.uk
Portsmouth UK                          tel (mobile): 0776 1372651
P01 3QL                                tel (office): 023 92842244
                                       tel (home): 023 80446718