A diagnosis covering all the Ratitae (struthio, rhea, casuarius, dromaeus, apteryx and the allied fossils dinornis and aepyornis) would be as follows - (i) terrestrial birds without keel to the sternum, absolutely flightless; (ii) quadrate bone with a single proximal articulating knob; (iii) coracoid and scapula fused together and forming an open angle; (iv) normally without a pygostyle; (v) with an incisura ischiadica; (vi) rhamphotheca compound; (vii) without apteria or bare spaces in the plumage; (viii) with a complete copulatory organ, moved by skeletal muscles.
The articulation of the mandible to the quadrate-bone is such as to allow of a very considerable amount of lateral play, and, by a particular arrangement of the muscles which move the former, it comes to pass that so soon as the bird opens its mouth the point of the mandible is brought immediately opposite to that of the maxilla (which itself is movable vertically), instead of crossing or overlapping it - the usual position when the mouth is closed.
An osteological question which has been much discussed is the fate of the reptilian quadrate bone in the mammalian skull.
The fate of the reptilian quadrate bone (which is reduced to very small dimensions in the Anomodontia) has been referred to in an earlier section of the present article, where some mention has also been made of the disappearance in mammals of the hinder elements of the reptilian lower jaw, so as to leave the single bone (dentary) of each half of this part of the skeleton in mammals.
In mammals the quadrate bone is incorporated into the middle ear as the malleus.