A group of large, flightless birds that includes two families native to Australasia. Emus (Dromalidae) and cassowaries (Casuariidae) became separated from other struthioniforms as a result of the final breakup of the supercontinent of Gondwana about 80 million years ago, during the Cretaceous Period.

The common emu, the only survivor of several forms exterminated by settlers, is the second largest living bird.  Emus can dash away at nearly 30 mph; if cornered they kick with their big, three-toed feet. They mate for life; the male incubates from 7 to 10 eggs in a ground nest for about 60 days. The striped young soon run with the adults. In small flocks emus forage for fruits and insects, but may also damage crops. They frequently exhibit a curious inquisitiveness toward human activities and may be lured to close range by various devices, as for example the waving of objects in the air, a habit that was utilized by the Australian Aborigines in hunting them.

Far less precise data are available on the annual cycle of the cassowaries. They are more pugnacious and aggressive than the emus. They are essentially creatures of the tropical rainforests, where they are extremely difficult to observe. Their diet consists mainly of fruit. Like emus, cassowaries swim well. In Australia cassowary feathers were formerly used for the notorious kurdaitcha shoes, or “shoes of silence,” worn by Aboriginal executioners on nocturnal missions of tribal vengeance or punishment.  In New Guinea cassowaries are captured as chicks and held in enclosures until they are large enough to eat.

casuariiform. (2011). Encyclopædia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite.  Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica.