There are only two species of ostrich, the common ostrich, and the Somali ostrich. Ostriches can live for about 35 years in the wild and double that in captivity, which is impressive, to say the least. These creatures influenced how velociraptors were designed in the 2015 movie Jurassic World. And even more fascinating—human-raised ostriches sometimes try to court humans. How about that?
Ostriches belong to a group of flightless birds known as ratites. This exclusive clique includes kiwis from New Zealand, emus from Australia, cassowaries from the Asia Pacific, and South America's rheas. Ostriches look most like rheas and emus with their long necks and legs. Some ratites, such as the giant elephant bird and the moa, have been extinct for hundreds of years, and as a group, they have been around for millions of years. There are even theories that ratites, spread across the southern hemisphere, weren't always flightless.
Currently the biggest and heaviest birds in the world, ostriches stand six to nine feet tall, and males can weigh approximately 300 pounds. In addition, their eggs can weigh a whopping 3.3 pounds and are the equivalent of two dozen chicken eggs or 2000 calories. You can also cook them similarly to chicken eggs, but you'll need a tool to break the hard shell.
They're not just large and tall. Ostriches are also way faster than the legendary Usain Bolt. There's a viral YouTube video of an ostrich chasing cyclists in South Africa, and in the video, the ostrich isn't even sprinting by its lofty standards of 43 miles per hour. This velocity makes the ostrich the fastest bipedal land animal globally. Ostrich wings serve as rudders to change direction, and each stride can be as long as 16 feet. And while we're discussing feet, an ostrich's two hoof-like clawed toes also help with speed and covering long distances. One kick from a powerful ostrich leg can kill a human being.
Ostriches have huge peepers and lashes that are just as grand. They have the most prominent eyes you'll ever see on a land animal, and it's not all for show. Each eye is about two inches wide, all the better to scope out their surroundings. These creatures have fantastic eyesight, and their vision and long necks allow them to spot potential threats close to two miles away.
Farm-raised ostriches receive a commercial pelleted feed. Omnivorous, wild ostriches chow down primarily on plants and supplement their greens with creepy crawlies, frogs, grasshoppers, lizards, rats, or snakes. They eat what's available in their habitats, including, rather curiously, stones. Ostriches are toothless gastroliths which means they swallow rocks to aid digestion. These pebbles stay in their gizzards and grind food. When they wear away, the ostrich gobbles more inorganic grit.
Sure, ostrich eggs are good. But what about their other bits? Ostrich tastes like beef but has significantly fewer calories and much less fat and cholesterol. Steaks from an ostrich are a delicacy, and the meat is rich in iron and doesn't taste gamey. It can be eaten cooked or as a carpaccio, and the neck can be used in a stew. So, while an ostrich meal may be harder to come by and more expensive, the red meat is a healthier alternative to the status quo. And it's more environmentally sustainable because ostriches require a fraction of the acreage that cattle do.
All ostriches start their lives being brown. Then, the males grow a striking black and white plumage to attract the ladies, and their beaks and legs turn pink when it's mating season. The mating ritual sees the flock's male bow in front of the dominant hen or one of the other hens. It then rocks from side to side and showcases its feathers before rising and stamping toward the female who must swipe right or left, proverbially speaking. Ostrich hierarchies allow the dominant hen to place her eggs at the center of a communal nest.
One curious detail stood out in a 2018 trial involving Paul Manafort, Donald Trump's former campaign chairman. The Assistant U.S. Attorney said Manafort spent his money on luxuries, including a $15,000 ostrich jacket, instead of paying his taxes. Before WW1, ostrich feathers were in high demand among fashionistas and were the fourth most valuable South African export behind gold, wool, and diamonds. But if you're thinking that Manafort donned a feathered number, you'd be wrong. With its durability and unique dotted quill pattern, ostrich leather is coveted and linked to the pricey Hermès Birkin bag and many other high-end designer brands.
Ostrich rides used to be a popular tourist activity in South Africa back in the 1960s and 70s. These days, many service providers have stopped the practice citing concerns from European clients. It's not outlawed, though, and some companies still offer the activity with a limit on tourist weight. Employees may also participate in races or 'ostrich derbies.' There are similar ostrich contests in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The famous idiom 'burying your head in the sand' is inspired by ostriches but based on a falsehood. Ostriches don't bury their heads in the ground to avoid predators. When they see a threat, they 'drop it like it's hot.' To escape detection, they quickly lower themselves to the ground and lay their neck and head parallel to it.
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