Meet an Island Species: The Micronesian Megapode
Islands cover a tiny fraction of the planet's surface, but are home to over half of all extinctions. In this series, we'll introduce you to some of the rare and fascinating animals found on islands.
Unless you are an ornithologist, the word "megapode" might conjure images of a transformer-like creature in your mind. In reality, megapodes, or "incubator birds," are chicken-like birds who are the only type of birds to use something other than their body heat to incubate their eggs. Instead, they bury their eggs under large mounds of sand or decaying vegetation, using geothermal or volcanic heat to warm the eggs. The picture below shows a megapode standing atop his huge incubator mound. Imagine starting your life under a pile of volcanic-heated compost!
Read on for more information about these unique birds.
How do you recognize a Micronesian Megapode? Micronesian Megapodes are about the size of a pigeon, with dark brownish-black feathers, a paler head and crest, and yellow bill and legs. Check out the picture to the right for an image of one:
How do Micronesian Megapodes spend their time? Once they've constructed an incubating mound for their eggs, Micronesian Megapodes are attentive parents, checking their eggs several times a day. They live in thick forests and are omnivorous, eating a variety of food from the forest floor, including seeds, beetles, ants, other insects, and plant matter. Micronesian Megapodes are very shy and secretive, and while they can fly, they usually prefer to walk.
How many Micronesian Megapodes are there? With less than 3,000 individuals surviving, the Micronesian Megapode is listed as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List. Its small range means that it is highly dependent on habitat preservation, and even a small loss of habitat could be fatal to the species.
Where can you find Micronesian Megapodes? You guessed it: Micronesia. Megapodes are found throughout Australasia, but the Micronesian variety is restricted to the Mariana Islands, Palau, Chuuk, and other nearby islands in the Western Pacific. Several Seacology projects have protected Micronesian Megapode habitat, including our reserves in Ngardmau State, Palau and Onongoch, Chuuk.
Images from Wikimedia Commons