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Earth Australia Science

Kiwi Genetically Closer to Extinct Elephant Birds Than to the Emu 46

"A new study by the University of Adelaide's Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD), has solved a 150-year-old evolutionary mystery about the origins of the giant flightless 'ratite' birds, such as the emu and ostrich, which are found across the southern continents. This group contains some of the world's largest birds - such as the extinct giant moa of New Zealand and elephant birds of Madagascar. ... [A]ncient DNA extracted from bones of two elephant birds held by the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, has revealed a close genetic connection with the kiwi, despite the striking differences in geography, morphology and ecology between the two." Which means that the emu is not, as conventional wisdom has long held, the kiwi's closest link. Here's more on the research from the University of Adelaide.
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Kiwi Genetically Closer to Extinct Elephant Birds Than to the Emu

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 25, 2014 @05:06AM (#47086499)

    Had to read this twice before I realised they weren't talking about New Zealanders in general.

  • Maybe we can get enough DNA to bring back these big birds. But then again it seems like our society screws things up. Remember the ostrich craze? People spent huge sums to get ostriches under the theory that an ostrich ranch was the next big thing. Supposedly businesses just could not get enough ostrich parts and the meat was going to be a big seller as well. The price of an ostrich passed 80K.. But none of us are seeing ostrich meat at the markets. I wonder how many millions were lost on the ostric
    • plenty of ostrich ranches are still in business. and emu ranches too. Eight out of ten business startups fail anyway, regardless of what the business is.

    • by synaptic ( 4599 ) on Sunday May 25, 2014 @01:17PM (#47088259) Homepage

      My folks raised ostriches, rheas, and emus during the breeder's market craze. I think the most we paid for an adult breeding pair was $35k. The ostriches laid anywhere from 40-60 eggs/yr, sometimes more, which we incubated and hatched. Ostrich chicks were sold for $1500-3000/ea at a few days to a few weeks old. Our facilities were inspected by the USDA and we were licensed by them. Occasionally we would sell fertile eggs for ~$1000/ea.

      Consider a cow that requires grazing space and has one, maybe two calves a year. An ostrich pair can produce >40x the many offspring in less space and the chicks mature to slaughter age in 14 months, the same as a cow. A single male can service a dozen females and this can all be done in a few acres of land, with less waste products as well. Our rheas were much more prolific, with one of our breeding pairs churning out over 120 fertile eggs per year. Our emus didn't produce well.

      The ostrich cornea was said to be compatible with humans, the feathers are in demand, and the leather is strong and light. Even the egg shells have been used by Faberge and others. I didn't really care for an ostrich egg omlette but the meat is low in both cholesterol and fat like chicken or turkey meat but is a red meat. The adults weigh around 300lbs.

      There were sometimes problems though. We had issues with egg shells that were too thick where the chicks couldn't peck through it and we would have to drill through the shell and help them hatch. Impaction was a big issue as the chicks would basically eat so much grass they would get bound up and couldn't get any nutrients. I did the autopsies. They will also eat any shiny piece of metal or nails and die. And if their body grows too fast, their legs cannot support the weight and they get bowed legs and other leg problems. The older birds will sometimes die just from the stress of being moved. We had a yearling once that walked on a slick surface and lost its footing, blowing out its knees and there's little you can do to help them recover from that. These problems aren't intractable, the poultry industry has solved a lot of them, and some of it was due to our own ignorance about proper feeding schedules and diet.

      I still think there are merits for eating ostrich meat over cow meat. I feel like an ostrich farm can scale larger than a cow farm with less environmental impact. But I just don't think Americans want to eat ostriches.

      • Most Americans would be eager to eat ostriches if they'd ever interacted with one.

      • by Jmc23 ( 2353706 )
        You do know the poultry industry's 'solution' for their over feeding regimes of garbage the animals aren't meant to eat is to restrict all their movement right? Then just package up the bits of the 'unfortunates' and presto mechanically seperated meat. Though one or two broken or mutated limbs can just be hacked off and sold as a utility chicken.

        No, we definitely do not need more ostrich farms and more of these 'solutions'.

  • If kiwis are related to the much bigger elephant birds, that might explain why they lay such ridiculously big eggs - they've shrunk but their eggs haven't caught up yet.
  • Radio NZ did a 40 minute interview [] with evolutionary biologist Alan Cooper (the lead researcher) on Saturday. It is well worth a listen if you've got the time.

I judge a religion as being good or bad based on whether its adherents become better people as a result of practicing it. - Joe Mullally, computer salesman