|The Ostrich (Struthio camelus) is a large flightless bird native to Africa (and formerly the Middle East). It is distinctive in its appearance, with a long neck and legs and the ability to run at speeds of about 65 km/h (40 mph), the top land speed of any bird. The Ostrich is the largest living species of bird and lays the largest egg of any bird species. It has been hunted in the past and is farmed in many areas all over the world.
The scientific name for the Ostrich is from the Greek for "camel sparrow" alluding to its long neck. It is the only living species of its family, Struthionidae, and its genus, Struthio. Ostriches share the order Struthioniformes with emus, kiwis, and other ratites.
The Ostrich belongs to the Struthioniformes order of (ratites). Other members include rheas, emus, cassowaries and the largest bird ever, the now-extinct Elephant Bird (Aepyornis). However, the classification of the ratites as a single order has always been questioned, with the alternative classification restricting the Struthioniformes to the ostrich lineage and elevating the other groups. Presently, molecular evidence is equivocal while paleobiogeographical and paleontological considerations are slightly in favor of the multi-order arrangement.
The present-day distribution of Ostriches.
Analyses indicate that the Somali Ostrich may be better considered a full species. mtDNA haplotype comparisons suggest that it diverged from the other Ostriches not quite 4 mya due to formation of the Great Rift Valley. Subsequently, hybridization with the subspecies that evolved southwestwards of its range, S. c. massaicus, has apparently been prevented from occurring on a significant scale by ecological separation, the Somali Ostrich preferring bush land where it browses middle-height vegetation for food while the Masai Ostrich is, like the other subspecies, a grazing bird of the open savanna and miombo habitat (Freitag & Robinson, 1993).
The population from Río de Oro was once separated as Struthio camelus spatzi because its eggshell pores were shaped like a teardrop and not round, but as there is considerable variation of this character and there were no other differences between these birds and adjacent populations of S. c. camelus, it is no longer considered valid. This population disappeared in the later half of the 20th century. In addition, there have been 19th century reports of the existence of small ostriches in North Africa; these have been referred to as Levaillant's Ostrich (Struthio bidactylus) but remain a hypothetical form not supported by material evidence (Fuller, 2000). Given the persistence of savanna wildlife in a few mountaineous regions of the Sahara (such as the Tagant Plateau and the Ennedi Plateau), it is not at all unlikely that ostriches too were able to persist in some numbers until recent times after the drying-up of the Sahara.
Several of these fossil forms are ichnotaxa (that is, classified according to the organism's footprints or other trace rather than its body) and their association with those described from distinctive bones is contentious and in need of revision pending more good material (Bibi et al., 2006).
The strong legs of the Ostrich lack feathers. The bird has just two toes on each foot (most birds have four), with the nail of the larger, inner one resembling a hoof. The outer toe lacks a nail. This is an adaptation unique to Ostriches that appears to aid in running. The wings are not used for flight, but are still large, with a wingspan of around two meters (over six feet) , despite the absence of long flight feathers. The wings are used in mating displays, and they can also provide shade for chicks. The feathers, which are soft and fluffy, serve as insulation, and are quite different from the flat smooth outer feathers of flying birds (the feather barbs lack the tiny hooks which lock them together in other birds). The ostrich's sternum is flat, lacking the keel to which wing muscles attach in flying birds. The beak is flat and broad, with a rounded tip. Like all ratites, the Ostrich has no crop, and it also lacks a gallbladder.
At sexual maturity (two to four years old), male Ostriches can be between 1.8 and 2.7 m (6 and 9 ft) in height, while female Ostriches range from 1.7 to 2 m (5.5 to 6.5 ft). During the first year of life, chicks grow about 25 cm (10 in) per month. At one year of age, ostriches weigh around 45 kg (100 lb). An Ostrich can live up to 75 years.
Distribution and habitat
With their acute eyesight and hearing, they can sense predators such as lions from far away. When being pursued by a predator, Ostriches have been known to reach speeds in excess of 70 km per hour (45 miles per hour), and can maintain a steady speed of 50 km/h (30 mph).
Ostriches are known to eat almost anything (dietary indiscretion), particularly in captivity where opportunity is increased.
Ostriches can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. In much of its habitat, temperature differences of 40°C between night- and daytime can be encountered. Their temperature control mechanism is more complex than in other birds and mammals, utilizing the naked skin of the upper legs and flanks which can be covered by the wing feathers or bared according to whether the bird wants to retain or lose body heat.
When lying down and hiding from predators, the birds lay their head and neck flat on the ground, making them appear as a mound of earth from a distance. This even works for the males, as they hold their wings and tail low so that the heat haze of the hot, dry air that often occurs in their habitat aids in making them appear as a nondescript dark lump. When threatened, Ostriches run away, but they can cause serious injury and death with kicks from their powerful legs.
The most unique behavior occurs when a pair of ostrich bearing young meets another pair. The parents will fight and the winning pairs will be parents of both pairs' offspring. It has been reported that the biggest group of ostriches contains 300 offspring.
Ostriches are oviparous. The females will lay their fertilized eggs in a single communal nest, a simple pit, 30 to 60 cm (12-24 in) deep, scraped in the ground by the male. Ostrich eggs are the largest of all eggs, though they are actually the smallest eggs relative to the size of the bird. The nest may contain 15 to 60 eggs, with an which are, on average, 15 cm (6 in) long, 13 cm (5 in) wide, and weigh 1.4 kg (3 lb). They are glossy and cream in color, with thick shells marked by small pits. The eggs are incubated by the females by day and by the male by night. This uses the coloration of the two sexes to escape detection of the nest, as the drab female blends in with the sand, while the black male is nearly undetectable in the night. The gestation period is 35 to 45 days. Typically, the male will defend the hatchlings, and teach them how and on what to feed.
Hunting and farming
Ostriches are farmed in over 50 countries around the world, including climates as cold as that of Sweden and Finland, though the majority are in Southern Africa. They will prosper in climates between 30 and −30 °C.
Since they also have the best feed to weight gain ratio of any land animal in the world (3.5:1 whereas that of cattle is 6:1), they are attractive economically to raise for meat or other uses. Although they are farmed primarily for leather and secondarily for meat, additional useful by-products are the eggs, offal, and feathers.
It is claimed that ostriches produce the strongest commercially available leather. Ostrich meat tastes similar to lean beef and is low in fat and cholesterol, as well as high in calcium, protein and iron. Uncooked, it is a dark red or cherry red color, a bit darker than beef.
The town of Oudtshoorn in South Africa has the world's largest population of ostriches. Many farms and specialized breeding centers have been set up around the town such as the Safari Show Farm and the Highgate Ostrich Show Farm. The CP Nel Museum is a museum that specializes in the history of the ostrich.
Ostriches are classified as dangerous animals in Australia, the US and the UK. There are a number of recorded incidents of people being attacked and killed. Big males can be very territorial and aggressive, and can attack and kick very powerfully with their legs. An Ostrich will easily outrun any human athlete. Their legs are powerful enough to eviscerate large animals.
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