The ancient Roman encyclopedist and philosopher Pliny the Elder once wrote that the ostrich, being profoundly stupid, sticks its head into a bush at the first sign of danger and considers itself invisible. Here's the truth about this magnificent, maligned bird.
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Ostriches cannot fly, but don't feel too sorry for them. The ostrich is the fastest bipedal runner in the world, capable of reaching speeds up to 45 miles per hour--about twice what the fastest human can achieve. What's more, an ostrich can maintain this speed for up to half an hour.
- To dispel the ancient libel, ostriches do not bury their heads when faced with danger--a species that did so would hardly be able to survive for more than 120 million years. They do, however, stretch their long necks flat on the ground when they sleep; from a distance, it can look as though their heads are buried.
- Of the three main varieties of ostriches, only the African black ostrich (Struthio camelus domesticus) is found in captivity. They are farmed for meat, leather, and feathers in at least 50 countries and just about all climatic conditions, from Alaska to equatorial Africa. Ostriches have the best feed-to-weight ratio gain of any farmed land animal in the world and produce the strongest commercially available leather.
- The ostrich's eyes are about the size of billiard balls. They take up so much room in the skull that the ostrich's brain is actually smaller than either one of its eyeballs. This may be why the ostrich, despite its tremendous running speed, is not very good at eluding predators: It tends to run in circles.