An extremely rare and large egg belonging to the extinct dwarf emu was found on King Island in a first-of-its-kind discovery. The finding was made in the dunes and is the first ever almost complete egg found of the extinct species on the island.
Prior to the European settlers arriving, there were three dwarf subspecies of the mainland emu. These three subspecies inhabited Tasmania, Kangaroo Island, and King Island. The subspecies in Tasmania were about 10% smaller than the mainland emus, while the ones on Kangaroo Island were around 25% shorter, and those living on King Island were approximately half the size of the mainland ones.
There have been a few complete eggs found belonging to emus that lived on Tasmania and Kangaroo Island, but none were ever located on King Island – until now. Amazingly, even though the King Island emus were small in size, they still laid large speckled eggs similar to the ones found on the mainland.
To put this into better perspective, the mainland emu’s egg weighed 1.3 pounds (0.59 kilograms) and the one from King Island weighed 1.2 pounds (0.54 kilograms). A picture of all four eggs from the mainland, Tasmania, Kangaroo Island, and King Island emus can be seen here.
The researchers went into further details about the egg size by noting, “This was a response to reduced resources and harsh environmental conditions on their respective island homes, where evolution likely favored larger emu chicks that were relatively mature and mobile at hatching, and could immediately forage for food and maintain body heat to combat cold.”
The study went on to explain how the breeding habits of the mainland and King Island emus were probably quite similar. “That includes a large clutch size, synchronized hatching of young to counter predator effects and thermos-regulation in hatchings to provide warmth.”
As for the species, the King Island dwarf emus were documented for the first time in 1802 by European settlers that ended up on the island as part of the expedition led by French explorer Nicolas Baudin. Julian Hume, who is a paleontologist at the London Natural History Museum, explained this further, “When Baudin arrived on King Island there were 13 people already there,” adding, “But as there were huge colonies of elephant seals, more and more settlers came and started burning off the forest.”
Within less than a decade (by the year 1810), all but two of the King Island emus were extinct. The last two were brought back to Paris where they lived until 1822 when they both sadly died within a few months of one another.
The study was published in the journal Biology Letters where it can be read in full.