The first thing you should know about the Dodo bird (Raphus Cucullatus) is that it no longer exists. It was driven to extinction by humans in 1681. Dodos were only found on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Portuguese sailors were the first Europeans to stumble upon them. Sailors, settlers and the subsequent release of feral populations of cats, dogs and pigs, destroyed the dodo's habitat and used the dodo for food. 175 years after their discovery, the last dodo was dead.
The dodo developed in near isolation, without any natural predators. They were ground-living, ground-nesting and flightless. Without the capacity to fly, the dodo could not extend its population to neighboring islands. Subsequently, the dodo became an even more isolated species, existing in one static environment. When threatened by encroaching species, the dodo had no natural defenses to save itself.
The exact appearance of the dodo is in question. They existed before cameras. We can only rely upon anecdotal accounts and the sketches of amateur naturalists. For a long time, there were no complete skeletons, and the closest thing historians had was the leg and head of one individual. All other skeletons were composites, made from the bones of many birds. In June 2007 that changed. Explorers discovered a cave with a complete dodo skeleton inside. Although we now have a better idea of the bird's physical structure, its coloring, plumage and girth are still in doubt.
Paintings of the Dodo show a stout bird. However, these paintings may be more fanciful than exact as the fashion in the 17th century was to exaggerate animals, making them plumper and more colorful than they were. Live dodos in captivity were remarked to be "greedy" animals. Perhaps the specimens brought back to Europe and painted were fatter than their wild counterparts because of improper diet and lack of exercise. Regardless of artistic interpretation, the dodo was impressive, standing 3 feet tall and weighing about 50 lbs. It possessed a large head and a heavy, hooked beak. Its wings were stubby, and its legs thick. A plume of white feathers decorated its rump. Nothing is reported of the dodo's mating habits, behaviors or life expectancy.
Dodos had no natural enemies and when they were discovered, they fearlessly approached humans and other animals. This is what made them easy prey. If you think humans ate the dodo into extinction, you would be mistaken. Early reports speak of the unpleasant taste and the toughness of the bird. Other native fowl were preferable. More likely than not, it was the feral animal populations that destroyed dodo eggs, took over habitats and ate the adults, causing the dodo's rapid decline.
Dodos have come to represent all endangered and extinct species. The phrase, "As dead as a Dodo," means deader than dead, all traces wiped out. Dodos have become a rallying cry for conservationism and a poster species for laws against eco-vandalism. This is probably due to the fact that dodo's were discovered while human civilizations were supposed to be entering a more enlightened age. Instead of preserving this species, humans were a direct and indirect cause for the dodo's destruction. Due to our lack of intervention, a unique and fascinating creature is now gone forever.
Fun Dodo Facts
- Dodo birds are related to pigeons. How strange that a bird so well known for its extinction should be related to a bird so well known for its over population.
- A dodo rampant is on the Mauritius Coat of Arms.
- It is believed that the loss of the dodo directly caused the near extinction of the tambalacocque, or dodo tree. The dodo tree's seeds would only germinate after passing through the digestive system of the dodo. Further experimentation showed that the seeds did germinate without the birds abrading them, but only rarely. To help with this trees survival, botanists now pass the seeds through the digestive track of turkeys.
- The word "dodo" is slang for "a dull-witted, slow-reacting person." For a while, people believed the bird's demise came about because of its own stupidity. It approached people with clubs. But remember, the dodo had no natural enemies and was not displaying stupidity, but curiosity.
- In Lewis Carroll's book, Alice in Wonderland, the Dodo is a solemn and wise bird.
Images of the Dodo