Animal of the Month
November 2016

Name: Common Ostrich
Scientific Name: Struthio camelus

Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Struthioniformes Family: Struthionidae
Genus: Struthio
Number Of Species:One of two flightless birds
Size: 5.5 to 9 feet tall
Weight: 140-320 pounds

Color: various
Range: Native to Africa
Diet: Diet consists of plants and invertebrates.
Lifespan: 40-45 years

Status: Least Concern

They’ve Got Their Heads in the Sand…Right?

Behold the ostrich, the world’s largest bird. Flightless, yet incredibly tall and very fast on the African plains. A myth has followed this creature for decades, the myth that ostriches hide their heads in the sand when they are scared. This myth has been reinforced for years in various children’s cartoons. This myth is also the origin of the phrase “head in the sand”, referring to a person who refuses to admit that there is a problem. While this phrase has become part of our regular lingo, the notion of ostriches burying their heads in the sand as a result of fear is completely and utterly FALSE!

This myth is debunked by the ostrich’s size and speed. If an ostrich is faced with danger, it would be more logical for it to run away with its formidable speed. Staying put and burying its head into the ground would only make it a target for predators! Burying its head in the sand would also suffocate it, as an ostrich needs to breathe.

The misconception of the ostrich burying its head may have come from its tendency to “lay low” in the event it can’t run away. An ostrich will lie down on the ground, and its head and neck will blend in with the dirt around it. From a distance, this may appear to a human that the ostrich has buried its head into the sand. The misconception may also originate from the ostrich’s feeding habits. Grazing from a distance may appear to be bizarre hiding tactics from afar. The only time an ostrich will actually dig a hole is if she is nesting. Several times a day the female ostrich will dip her head into the nest to check on her eggs. This too, from a distance, makes it look like that the ostrich is hiding her head under the ground.

This is a good example of how you shouldn’t make assumptions about animals before you get to know them. It is best to observe an animal’s pattern of behavior when you do not understand it, rather than to jump to conclusions. Thinking scientifically involves observation, hypothesizing, and finally experimentation. The people who made the initial observations about the ostrich did not follow these steps!

Here are some more articles further explaining the ostrich’s habits, and how these habits do not involve burying their heads in the sand.

Mental Floss—“Why Do Ostriches Stick Their Heads in the Sand?”—“Strange Animal Fact: Ostriches Don’t Bury Their Heads in the Sand”.


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