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Mighty Etty | by Steve Kacir
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Mighty Etty

Meet Etty. She is a Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius), one of three extant species of Cassowaries, which along with the only extant species of Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) make up the family Casuariidae. Cassowaries are a type of Ratite, a group of Palaeognathous flightless birds that includes Ostriches, Rheas, Kiwis, Emu, Cassowaries and other extinct species such as the Moas of New Zealand and Elephant Birds of Madagascar. The Ratites and the Tinamous are the only extant members of a more ancient group of birds known as the Palaeognathae. These are the last remnants of an older evolutionary branch in the tree of life that contains all birds. Etty, as a female Southern Cassowary, arrives on the scene with bold skin coloration, decorative wattles, and plenty of attitude. The "jazz on her head" is a bony crest called a casque, sometimes also referred to as a helmet. The look of that bony crest reminds me of Pachycephalosaurs, and Etty did remind me of an ancient dinosaur. She comes on the scene complete with a disembowelling claw on her strong feet. Her kicks would be dangerous enough in their own right, but her longest claw looks terribly effective for her defense. The casque on her head seems like it could be used as a weapon as much as a display item. Etty is a matriarch, a queen in an Amazonian society where the females rule and the males tend to the eggs and nest. Subsequently, her ornamentation is far more elaborate than the smaller males in her entourage. We only saw Etty, and the locals suspect that her males were tending the nests in the forest. Standing with Etty on the beach and later in our camp, where this photo was taken, was like traveling back in time to the Cretaceous, past the 65MYA event horizon that left us only feathered dinosaurs back to the height of Theropod extravagance. Walking with her on the beach and cautiously following her out of our camp was like following a non-avian Coelurosaur, a more docile Velociraptor or Deinonychus as it patrolled its territory. She is magnificent, an anachronism in her own time. Etty is a look back at what we will never see again, and a reason to remember and mourn those Ratites our species destroyed for the stewpot before our own species began to see nature in a way that was not strictly utilitarian. Etty is much loved by the locals at Etty Bay, and I hope she enjoys a long and peaceful reign. This photo was submitted to the 2010 DVOC Members Photo Night Contest in the "Birds Category." (Photographed in our camp at Etty Bay, Queensland, Australia)

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Taken on October 14, 2010