Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Harpy Eagle

I think we'll just start his post off with a video.

Yup. That's what Harpy Eagles (Harpia harpyja) do. They soar above the treetops of the Amazon, and swoop in to grab unsuspecting sloths, monkeys, opossums, anteaters.... but sloths are apparently their favorites. They are one of the largest species of raptor in the world.

Harpy Eagles are the only member of genus Harpia, so named after the Harpies, winged death spirits in Greek Mythology that had eagle-like bodies and the heads of women. In the Jason and the Argonauts story, the Harpies tortured king Phineas by always snatching food out of his hands, leaving him perpetually hungry until Jason and his band relieved him. They resorted to similar snatching in The Aeneid, and were also said to have grabbed who people in other myths as well. In short, a very appropriate name for an eagle that makes its living grabbing tree dwellers while they are just doing their thing.

Though it is the only member in its genus, the Harpy Eagle is a member of the very large and diverse Accipitridae family. This family goes back in the fossil record over 50 million years, and now contains hawks, eagles, kites, vultures, buzzards and other sorts of hook-beaked, carnivorous birds.

Harpy eagles have body lengths of around 3 feet, with wingspans of up to seven. Their span is not as long as those of other eagles, due to their tropical, tree filled habitat. Aside from the hooked beak that is commonplace of their family, Harpy Eagles have some seriously large claws. They grow up to 5 inches long, and are used to grasp prey weighing up to half their own body weight. Huge.


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