Belated Monday Organism – Kakapo – The Flightless Parrot


I was just dying to use the dead parrot sketch somehow to illustrate the headline, but failed. Feel free to try.

The Kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) is a very unique parrot. It’s nocturnal, polygynous (many parrots are monogamous) and, most intriguingly, it’s flightless. That’s right, just like the extinct Dodo, the ostrich and the kiwi birds, Kakapo parrots are flightless – they got the bones, feathers and muscles for flight, but their ability to fly is gone.

I never heard of the kakapo before reading about it in Jerry Coyne’s treasure tome, “Why Evolution Is True” (well, treasure .pdb file, since I read it with an e-reader) – as evidence for evolution by biogeography.

Needless to say, the Kakapo is a striking example of natural selection, and more so, of the devolution (again with that term, careful!) of ancestral traits when those are no longer needed. I’m not making this up, it has been observed (see Wiki article) that the degenerated flight muscles do increase the Kakapo’s relative thermodynamic efficiency. Losing useless birds while inhabiting an island with very few predators did nothing but good to our little beaky friend.

The Kakapo is also possibly the heaviest parrot in the world, and, in a rather bizarre coincedence, pertains to the greatest longevity not only among parrots, but among all birds as well. Putting aside monstrous mycelia, for animals, the question does arise whether there’s a causative link between body size/mass/robustness and longevity? I ask this as ignorantly as I can, since I barely know the life expectancy for any other species apart from humans and dogs.

The poor feller is critically endangered, and as of right now, there’s fewer than 100 individuals. This is probably our fault, since the colonizers of New Zealand introduced many domestic predators (like cats and dogs, who delighted themselves with a big, fat, flightless parrot who didn’t have a clue). There’s a tremendous conservation effort to preserve them, and now they’re all living in predator-free islands. You can say anything you want about mankind screwing over our ecology, but at least for the kakapo, we’re doing our best to atone for our sins.

So, as you can see, this parrot ain’t dead yet! (Sorry, I had to.):

[kaltura-widget wid=”iueglqn9wg” width=”410″ height=”364″ addpermission=”0″ editpermission=”0″ /]


8 Responses to “Belated Monday Organism – Kakapo – The Flightless Parrot”

  1. Dana Says:

    איזה חמוד! באמת רציתי לבקש ממך לכתוב על בעלי כנף

  2. oddinnuendo Says:

    Oh wow, that bird looks pretty. I love birds, I do hope that, although endangered, a lot of effort is put into looking after what is left of them.

  3. Mark Says:

    What does it mean “thermodynamic efficiency”? I have no clue. Is it about conserving and releasing body heat?

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