Dromaius novaehollandiae minor Spencer, 1906:140

King Island (dwarf) emu, Black emu



Taxonomy & Nomenclature

Synonym/s: Dromaius ater Vieillot, 1817 (nomen novum for D. n. novaehollandiae?); Dromaius novaehollandiae ater Vieillot, 1817 (nomen novum for D. n. novaehollandiae?); Casuarius diemenianus Jennings, 1828:382; Dromaeus parvulus 'Gould' (fide Broderip, 1842:145); Dromaeus minor Spencer, 1906:140; Dromaeus bassi Legge, 1907:119


Dromaius (novaehollandiae) ater appears to be a nomen novum ("new name") for the living nominate form D. n. novaehollandiae, hence its use in connection with the current taxon is probably in error.

Generally considered a full species nowadays (e.g. BirdLife International, 2008), a new article (Heupink, Huynen & Lambert, 2011) provides convincing evidence that the King Island Emu is, rather, a subspecies of the mainland population of emus.


Conservation Status


Last record: May 1822

IUCN RedList status: Extinct


According to (Le Souef, 1904) a sealer named Cowper told men from Baudin's 1802-1803 expedition that he had killed around 300 hundred of the resident emus on King Island. This no doubt had a significant impact on the population, and may itself have been enough to push the population past the viability threshold and into inevitable extinction.



King Island, Tasmania, Australia


Biology & Ecology







Above: specimen in the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle. Source: Wikimedia Commons.



Original scientific description:

Spencer, Baldwin. (1906). The King Island Emu. The Victorian Naturalist 23(7): 139-140.


Other references:

Alexander, W. B. (1921). Notes on the Fauna of King Island from the Logbooks of the "Lady Nelson". Emu 21(4): 318-319.

Antonius, Edwin. (2017). Emus von King Island und Kangaroo Island in Europa – Neue Erkenntnisse über 1804 von der Baudin-Expedition mitgebrachte Vertreter inzwischen ausgerotteter Laufvögel. Der Zoologische Garten 86(1-6): 41-76. [Abstract]

Balouet, Jean-Christophe and Jouanin, Christian. (1990). Systématique et origine géographique des émeus récoltés par l’expédition Baudin. L’Oiseau et la Revue française d’ornithologie 60: 314-318.

Barnard, G. (1826-1827). A descriptive map of rocks, timber and soil on King's Island. Lt. Gov. Arthur's Despatch 73. Governor's despatches, October to December 1827. London: Colonial Records Office.

BirdLife International. (2012). Dromaius ater. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. (http://www.iucnredlist.org). Downloaded on 30 September 2012.

Boles, Walter E. (1992). Revision of Dromaius gidju Patterson & Rich 1987 from Riversleigh, northwest Queensland, Australia, with a reassessment of its generic position. Contributions to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History [1992]: 195-208.

Brasil, L. (1913). L’Émeu de l’île King. Bulletin de la Société Linnéenne de Normandie, 6(6): 76-97.

Brasil, L. (1914). The Emu of King Island. Emu 14(2): 88-97.

Brosse, J. 1983. Great Voyages of Discovery; Circumnavigators and Scientists, 1764-1843. Facts on File Publ., New York.

Bryant, Sally L. and Jackson, J. (1999). Tasmania's Threatened Fauna Handbook: What, Where and How to Protect Tasmania's Threatened Animals. Threatened Species Unit, DPIWE, Hobart. [p. 213-215]

Bullock, William. (1813). A companion to the London Museum and Pantherion : containing a brief description of upwards of fifteen thousand natural and foreign curiosities, antiquities, and productions of the fine arts now open for public inspection in the Egyptian Temple, Piccadilly, London. London: Printed for the proprietor by Whittingham and Rowland. xii + 151 pp. [pp. 67]

Campbell, A. G. (1903). Emu bones on King Island. Emu 3(2): 113-114.

Garnett, Stephen (ed.). (1992). Threatened and Extinct Birds of Australia. RAOU Report Number 82. 212 pp.

Garnett, S. T. and Crowley, G. M. (2000). The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia & Birds Australia.

Ghiraldi, Luca and Aimassi, Giorgio. (2019). Extinct and endangered (‘E&E’) birds in the ornithological collection of the Museum of Zoology of Torino University, Italy. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 139(1): 28-45.

Giglioli, Henry H. (1900). A Third Specimen of the Extinct "Dromaius ater," Vieillot; found in the R. Zoological Museum, Florence. Nature 62(1596): 102. [Abstract]

Giglioli, Henry H. (1901). On a Specimen of the Extinct Dromæus ater Discovered in the Royal Zoological Museum, Florence. Ibis 43(1): 1-10. [Abstract]

Giglioli, Henry H. (1907). On the extinct emu of the small islands off the south coast of Australia and probably Tasmania. Nature 75: 534.

Green, R. H. (1989). Birds of Tasmania. Launceston: Potoroo Publishing.

Green, R. H. and McGarvie, A. M. (1971). The birds of King Island, with reference to other western Bass Strait islands and annotated lists of the vertebrate fauna. Records of the Queen Victoria Museum 40: 1-42.

James C. Greenway, Jr. (1967). Extinct and vanishing birds of the world, second edition. Dover Publications, Inc., New York.

Hall, Robert. (1899). A Key to the Birds of Australia and Tasmania ; with their geographical distribution in Australia. Melbourne/London, Melville Mullen & Slade / Dulau & Co.

Heupink, T. H., Huynen, L. and Lambert, D. M. (2011). Ancient DNA Suggests Dwarf and ‘Giant’ Emu Are Conspecific. PLoS ONE 6(4): e18728.

Hooper, Richard H. (1973). The King Island Story, edited by Mark Richmond. Sydney: Peko-Wallsend. [p. 24]

Hume, Julian Pender. (2017). In search of the dwarf emu: extinct emus of Australian islands. Talk to be presented on Monday 13 March to the British Ornithologists' Club. [Abstract]

Hume, Julian Pender and Robertson, Christian. (2021). Eggs of extinct dwarf island emus retained large size. Biol. Lett. 17: 20210012. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2021.0012

Hume, Julian Pender, Steel, Lorna, Middleton, Gregory and Medlock, Kathryn. (2017). In search of the dwarf emu: A palaeontological survey of King and Flinders Islands, Bass Strait, Australia Contribuciones del Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales "Bernardino Rivadavia" 7: 81-98.

Hume, Julian Pender and Walters, Michael. (2012). Extinct Birds. London: T & AD Poyser. 544 pp.

Jennings, J. (1828). Ornithologia; or, The Birds: A Poem, in Two Parts with an Introduction to their Natural History; and Copious Notes. London: Poole and Edwards.

Jennings, J. N. (1959). The coastal geomorphology of King Island, Bass Strait, in relation to changes in the relative level of land and sea. Rec. Queen. Vic. Mus. 11.

Jouanin, Christian. (1959). Les emeus de l'Expedition Baudin. L'Oiseau et la Revue Française d'Ornithologie 29(3): 169-203.

Jouanin, Christian. (1962). Inventaire des oiseaux éteints ou en voie d’extinction conservés au Muséum de Paris. Terre et Vie 109: 275-301.

Legge, W. V. (1906). The emus of Tasmania and King Island. Emu 6(3): 116-119. [published in 1907?]

Le Souef, D. (1904). Extinct Tasmanian Emu. Emu 3(4): 229-231.

Martin, Robert Montgomery. (1855). The British Colonies: Their History, Extent, Condition, and Resources. London: London Printing and Publishing, Vol. I, Book I, p. 656.

Mathews, Gregory M. (1911). The Birds Of Australia. London: l, Witherby & Co.

Mathews, G. M. (1927). Systema Avium Australasianarum. A Systematic List of the Birds of the Australasian Region. Vol. 1. London: British Ornithologists’ Union.

Micco, Helen Mary. (1971). King Island and the sealing trade, 1802. Canberra: Roebuck. 52 pp. [relevant citation?]

Milne-Edwards, A. and Oustalet E. (1899). Note sur  L'Emeu noir (Dromaius ater, V)  de l'ile  Deeres (Australie). Bull. Mus. Hist. Nat. 51: 206-14.

Moorehead, A. (1978). Darwin and the Beagle. Book Club Associates. [reproduction of emu family on p. 172*]

O’Brien, R. M. (1990). Family DROMAIIDAE: Emus, p. 59. In: Stephen Marchant and Peter Jeffrey Higgins (coordinators). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Vol. I: Ratites to Ducks. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Péron, François. (1804). Voyage de de couvertes aux terres Australes. Paris.

Pfennigwerth, Stephanie Clare. (2007). Of Emus and Empires - The Story of the King Island Emu. Animals and Society II: Considering Animals, conference, 4-7 July 2007, Hobart, Tasmania.

Pfennigwerth, Stephanie Clare. (2010a). New creatures made known: (re)discovering the extinct King Island emu. Research Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

Pfennigwerth, Stephanie Clare. (2010b). “The mighty cassowary”: the discovery and demise of the King Island emu. Archives of Natural History 37(1): 74-90. [Abstract]

Pfennigwerth, Stephanie Clare. (2013). New Creatures Made Known: Some Animal Histories of the Baudin Expedition, pp. 171-213. In: West-Sooby, John. Discovery and Empire: the French in the South Seas. Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press. 282 pp.

Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union. (1978). Recommended English Names for Australian Birds. Emu 77(Supplement): 255.

Serventy, D. L. (1967). The Bass Strait Islands. Australian Natural History 15(12): 401-408.

Slater, P. (1978). Rare and Vanishing Australian Birds. Sydney: Rigby.

Spencer, W. Baldwin and Kershaw, J. A. (1910). A Collection of Sub-fossil Bird and Marsupial Remains from King Island, Bass Strait. Mem. Nat. Mus. Melbourne 3: 5-35.

Spencer, Baldwin and Kershaw, J. A. (1910). A collection of sub-fossil bird and marsupial remains from King Island, Bass Strait. Mem. Nat. Mus. Melb. 3: 5-35.

Thomson, Vicki A., Mitchell, Kieren J., Eberhard, Rolan, Dortch, Joe, Austin, Jeremy J. and Cooper, Alan. (2018). Genetic diversity and drivers of dwarfism in extinct island emu populations. Biology Letters 14(4): 20170617. [Abstract]

Van Huet, Sanja. (1999). Badgers, cassowaries and oddities: the extant and extinct fauna of King Island, Bass Strait. Abstracts from the 6th CAVEPS, Perth, 7-11 July, 1997. In: Baynes, Alexander and Long, John A. (eds.). Papers in vertebrate palaeontology. Records of the Western Australian Museum Supplement 57: 420.

Vickers-Rich, Patricia. (1975). Antarctic dispersal routes, wandering continents, and the origin of Australia's non-passeriform avifauna. Mem. Nat. Mus. Vic. 36: 63-126.

Vieillot, L. J. P. (1817). Nouveau dictionnaire d'histoire naturelle, volumes 7, 14 & 25. Paris: Déterville.

Worthy, Trevor H. and Nguyen, Jacqueline M. T. (2020). An annotated checklist of the fossil birds of Australia. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 144(1): 66-108.





* Can also be seen here


<< Back to the Casuariiformes (Casowaries and Emus) database