Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rhea

When people think of flightless birds, they think Ostrich, Emu, maybe even Kiwi. But what about the Rhea? There are two species of Rhea, both native to the grasslands of South America. Like the aforementioned birds, Rheas are ratites; birds that lack an anchor for their wing muscles, and thus cannot fly. Rheas still have large (for a Ratite) wings, but they are used for balance while running.

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The largest of the Rheas, the Common or American Rhea (Rhea americana), cant grow to heights of 5 feet, while the Lesser or Darwin's Rhea (Rhea pennata) grows to only 3 or 4. They are omnivores, and will consume fruits, seeds, lizards, insects, and even carrion. Rheas are solitary through the breeding season, but will form flocks during the winter. These flocks sometimes intermingle with those of other species.

Interestingly, it is the male Rheas that do most of the egg-guarding and chick-rearing. What is even more interesting is that Rheas are polygamous, and the males take more than one mate. All of his breeding partners will lay their eggs in the same place to be watched over by the male. A Rhea egg can weight 1.5lbs.

Like Ostrich, Rhea meat can be eaten, and the industry is regulated by the USDA which considers it to be "red" meat. Rhea feathers and skins are also used for various purposes, including clothing and decoration.

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