Dodo, belonging to the family Columbidae, was a flightless bird endemic to the island of Mauritius. The first recorded mention of this bird came from Dutch sailors in 1598. Dodo was considered by many as being mythical creatures.
|Scientific name||Raphus cucullatus|
|Height||3 ft 3 in tall.|
|Weight||22 to 47 pounds.|
|Beak||23 centimetres with a hooked point.|
|Diet||Fallen fruits, nuts, bulbs, roots, seeds, crabs and shellfish.|
|Closest genetic relative||Rodrigues solitaire (also extinct)|
|Closest extant relative||Nicobar pigeon|
|Lifespan||17 to 21 years|
The appearance of this species is known from the 17th century written accounts, paintings and drawings. With varying hypothesis, its exact appearance still stays unsolved to an extent. There are very few illustrations that have been drawn from live specimens. Widely accepted views suggest that they had brownish-grey plumage; grey, naked head; a tuft of tail feathers; yellow feet and a black, yellow, and green beak.
Early scientists described this bird as a small ostrich, an albatross, a rail and even a vulture. In 1842, Danish zoologist and herpetologist Johannes Theodor Reinhardt was the first to describe this species as ‘ground pigeons.’ He came to the conclusion after researching dodo skulls from the Royal Danish collection at Copenhagen. His views were later supported by Hugh Edwin Strickland and Alexander Gordon Melville in their paper ‘The Dodo and Its Kindred’ in 1848.
Dodos were less aggressive than Rodrigues solitaire and intraspecific battles were quite rare. They used their beak for defense.
Range and Habitat
Dodo, endemic to Mauritius, inhabited forests in the drier coastal regions of south and west of the island. A little population also inhabited mountain regions. Their habitat was dominated by Pandanus and tambalacoque trees as well as endemic plants.
Dodos were monogamous. It has been suggested that mating ritual included ‘clapping’ with their ‘hand.’ With no predators around, they nested on the ground. They laid a one-egg clutch. The egg was hatched after 46 days. Both male and female took part in taking care of the young.
Causes of extinction
Hunting (for meat) is the primary cause of its extinction, which went unnoticed for some time. They were killed in thousands by sailors (sometimes killed as many as fifty at a time). Their eggs and chicks were also easy prey to the animals introduced to the island by the sailors.
It had also been suggested that the Dodo population might have been low even before humans arrived. If they had occupied remote places in the island, then their extinction could not have been that rapid.
Their exact extinction timeline is not known, but most widely accepted date is 1662. The last claimed sighting came from Isaac Johannes Lamotius’ hunting records in 1688.
- It is believed that they used gizzard stones to help digest its food.
- This bird got a widespread recognition for its ‘role’ Alice in Wonderland.
- In Mauritius, Dodo is frequently used as a mascot.
- It has been suggested that their weight varied depending on the season.
- Roelant Savery, the Dutch painter, was the most influential illustrator of this bird. One of his famous paintings, now known as Edwards’s Dodo, was once owned by ornithologist George Edwards.
- It is believed that absence of predators and availability of abundant food in its habitat turned them flightless.
- Scientists have thought of cloning by extracting its DNA and using a closest relative species as a mother, but that would not produce a perfect dodo as its genetic code survives in tiny fragments, and most likely, it would not be possible to work that out with perfect accuracy.
- The traditional image of this bird being fat and clumsy might be wrongly depicted. Based on crudely stuffed specimens, scientists have suggested that the images with puffed feathers is a part of their display behavior.
- A white dodo was incorrectly thought to have inhabited the island of Réunion.
- Skeleton and other specimens related to this bird can be found in Oxford University Museum of Natural History, British Museum in London as well as several museums throughout Europe, America and Mauritius.
The etymology of the word ‘dodo’ is not known. However, it is believed that it came from Dutch word ‘dodoor’ which means ‘sluggard.’ Dodo was referred to as ‘Walghvogel’ in Vice Admiral Wybrand van Warwijck’s journal. In Dutch ‘walghe’ means ‘insipid’ and ‘vogel’ means ‘bird.’