The cassowary, frequently called the world's deadliest bird, probably deserves the moniker. As tall as an average adult human male, the cassowary is one of a only a few birds to have killed a person. Just in case being massive wasn't dangerous enough, it also has some serious talons it's not afraid to use.
However, the facts about cassowaries tell a more nuanced tale. Despite its status as the world's deadliest bird, the cassowary is endangered, with some estimates saying there are only 4,000 left in the wild. Deforestation, cars, dogs, and too much human interaction are to blame for the dwindling cassowary population.
Though naturally solitary, like the shoebill (another downright terrifying bird), humans have fed cassowaries for so long that they're no longer afraid of humans. This has led to cassowaries entering homes - and, obviously, attacking people and domesticated animals. The facts on this fascinating animal go far beyond its killer status, though. Read on to get all the details on this bizarre bird.
In 1926, a 16-year-old boy died from a cassowary injury to the jugular; though there have been numerous reports of severe injuries since then, his death is the only one confirmed. Though the cassowary definitely has the ability to kill a human, it's important to note that they're not hunting for us.
It appears that many attacks have been precipitated by the cassowary feeling threatened in some way; perhaps someone comes near its nest, for example. Out of a study of 221 cassowary attacks, nearly half were from the cassowary approaching a person for food - likely because they got used to people feeding them.
Cassowaries are compared to dinosaurs frequently, and it's not hard to see why. The cassowary really does look like it could be roaming around the set of Jurassic Park. Not only does its stature seem more fitting for another era, but its coloring and features are also incredibly unique.
Cassowaries have a casque on top of their heads, but scientists aren't sure why. It may help them communicate (cassowaries have a very low bellow; the casque could help them sense vibrations). Regardless of function, dinosaurs had a similar head shape millions of years ago. It's also unknown if their wattles have a function (flesh that hangs off the neck - roosters have wattles, too).
Males protect the eggs and raise the young, but that's not the most bizarre thing about the cassowary. It's the cassowary's genitalia that may shock you - both the male and female have a penis-like structure, and the male's appendage is actually inside a "vaginal cavity." Sperm comes out of the base during reproduction, not the tip.
Ancient cultures were all about the strange genital features of the cassowary; one tribe believed that having features of both genders made the cassowary powerful. There was also a myth about a woman who had a penis and then became a cassowary. Do with that what you will.
If the cassowary isn't hungry for humans, what is it hungry for? Mostly just fruit. The cassowary eats 19 liters of fruit and one liter of protein a day. But they'll eat meat, too, usually from mice, frogs, snakes, and the like.
Young cassowaries will also eat feces. To be fair, though, other birds may eat cassowary feces as well, as it typically has chunks of fruit in it.
Remember that whole eating poop thing? It turns out cassowary poop is actually important to the Australian ecosystem.
Cassowaries are the only animals that can distribute seeds of over 70 tree species. Why? The fruits of those trees are too large for other animals to eat. Cassowaries can also eat fruits that would kill another animal because they aren't affected by some toxins. Not only do cassowary droppings themselves distribute seeds, but the fact that other animals eat the seeds helps spread these tree and fruit species even further. They eat at least 238 different types of plants that we know of in the cassowary diet - that's a lot of seeds in cassowary poop.