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Fossil range: Recent
Dodo reconstruction reflecting new research at Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Dodo reconstruction reflecting new research at Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Columbiformes
Family: Columbidae
Subfamily: Raphinae
Genus: Raphus
Brisson, 1760
Species: R. cucullatus
Binomial name
Raphus cucullatus
(Linnaeus, 1758)
Former range (in red)
Former range (in red)
  • Struthio cucullatus Linnaeus, 1758
  • Didus ineptus Linnaeus 1766

The Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) was a flightless bird that was endemic to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Related to pigeons and doves, it stood about a metre (three feet) tall, lived on fruit and nested on the ground.

The dodo has been extinct since the mid-to-late 17th century.[1] It is commonly used as the archetype of an extinct species because its extinction occurred during recorded human history, and was directly attributable to human activity. The adjective phrase "as dead as a dodo" means undoubtedly and unquestionably dead. The verb phrase "to go the way of the dodo" means to become extinct or obsolete, to fall out of common usage or practice, or to become a thing of the past.


[edit] Etymology

The etymology of the word dodo is not clear. However, there is a consensus that the name is probably pejorative. Some ascribe it to the Portuguese word dodoor for "sluggard". It may be related to dodaers ("plump-arse"), the Dutch name of the Little Grebe. The connection may have been made because of similar feathers of the hind end or because both animals were ungainly. However, the Dutch are also known to have called the Mauritius bird the walghvogel ("loathsome bird" or "nauseating fowl") in reference to its taste. This last name was used for the first time in the journal of vice-admiral Wybrand van Warwijck who visited and named the island Mauritius in 1598. Dodo or Dodaerse is recorded in captain Willem van West-Zanen's journal four years later,[2] but it is unclear whether he was the first one to use this name, because before the Dutch, the Portuguese had already visited the island in 1507, but did not settle permanently.

According to Encarta Dictionary and Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, "dodo" comes from Portuguese doudo (currently doido) meaning "fool" or "crazy".[3] However, the present Portuguese name for the bird, dodô, is of English origin. The Portuguese word doudo or doido may itself be a loanword from Old English (cf. English "dolt"). Further doubt can be raised on the hypothesis of a Portuguese origin for the name simply because, in the Portuguese language, a name composed of two identical syllables sounds childish.

Yet another possibility is that dodo was an onomatopoeic approximation of the bird's own call, a two-note pigeony sound like "doo-doo".[4]

[edit] Biology

[edit] Systematics and evolution

Probably the earliest accurate drawings of a dodo (1601–1603).
Probably the earliest accurate drawings of a dodo (1601–1603).
An illustration by Moghul artist Ustad Mansur, one of the first illustrations of the Dodo
An illustration by Moghul artist Ustad Mansur, one of the first illustrations of the Dodo

The dodo was a close relative of modern pigeons and doves. mtDNA cytochrome b and 12S rRNA sequences[5] analysis suggests that the dodo's ancestors diverged from those of its closest known relative, the Rodrigues Solitaire (which is also extinct), around the Paleogene-Neogene boundary.[6] As the Mascarenes are of volcanic origin and less than 10 million years old, both birds' ancestors remained most likely capable of flight for considerable time after their lineages' separation. The same study has been interpreted[7] to show that the Southeast Asian Nicobar Pigeon is the closest living relative of the dodo and the Reunion Solitaire.

However, the proposed phylogeny is rather questionable as regards the relationships of other taxa[8] and must therefore be considered hypothetical pending further research; considering biogeographical data, it is very likely to be erroneous. All that can be presently said with any certainty is that the ancestors of the didine birds were pigeons from Southeast Asia or the Wallacea, which agrees with the origin of most of the Mascarenes' birds. Whether the dodo and Rodrigues Solitaire were actually closest to the Nicobar Pigeon among the living birds, or whether they are closer to other groups of the same radiation such as Ducula, Treron or Goura pigeons is not clear at the moment.

For a long time, the dodo and the Rodrigues Solitaire (collectively termed "didines") were placed in a family of their own, the Raphidae. This was because their relationships to other groups of birds (such as rails) had yet to be resolved. As of recently, it appears more warranted to include the didines as a subfamily Raphinae in the Columbidae.

Painting of an albino dodo, previously mislabeled as "Raphus solitarius".
Painting of an albino dodo, previously mislabeled as "Raphus solitarius".

The supposed "White Dodo" is now thought to be based on misinterpreted reports of the Réunion Sacred Ibis[citation needed] and paintings of apparently albinistic dodos; a higher frequency of albinos is known to occur occasionally in island species (see also Lord Howe Swamphen).

[edit] Morphology and flightlessness

In October 2005, part of the Mare aux Songes, the most important site of dodo remains, was excavated by an international team of researchers. Many remains were found, including bones from birds of various stages of maturity,[9] and several bones obviously belonging to the skeleton of one individual bird and preserved in natural position.[3] These findings were made public in December 2005 in the Naturalis in Leiden. Before this, few associated dodo specimens were known, most of the material consisting of isolated and scattered bones. Dublin's Natural History Museum and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, among others, have a specimen assembled from these disassociated remains. A Dodo egg is on display at the East London museum in South Africa. Until recently, the most intact remains, currently on display at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, were one individual's partly skeletal foot and head which contain the only known soft tissue remains of the species.

This 1651 dodo image by Jan Savery is based on a 1626 painting by Roelant Savery, made from a stuffed specimen – note that it has two left feet and that the bird is obese from captivity.
This 1651 dodo image by Jan Savery is based on a 1626 painting by Roelant Savery, made from a stuffed specimen – note that it has two left feet and that the bird is obese from captivity.

The remains of the last known stuffed dodo had been kept in Oxford's Ashmolean Museum, but in the mid-18th century, the specimen – save the pieces remaining now – had entirely decayed and was ordered to be discarded by the museum's curator or director in or around 1755.

In June 2007, adventurers exploring a cave in the Indian Ocean discovered the most complete and well-preserved dodo skeleton ever.[10]

From artists' renditions we know that the Dodo had greyish plumage, a 23-centimetre (9-inch) bill with a hooked point, very small wings, stout yellow legs, and a tuft of curly feathers high on its rear end. Dodos were very large birds, weighing about 23 kg (50 pounds). The sternum was insufficient to support flight; these ground-bound birds evolved to take advantage of an island ecosystem with no predators.

The traditional image of the dodo is of a fat, clumsy bird, hence the official scientific name Didus ineptus, but this view has been challenged in recent times. The general opinion of scientists today is that the old drawings showed overfed captive specimens.[11] As Mauritius has marked dry and wet seasons, the dodo probably fattened itself on ripe fruits at the end of the wet season to live through the dry season when food was scarce; contemporary reports speak of the birds' "greedy" appetite. Thus, in captivity, with food readily available, the birds would become overfed very easily.

[edit] Diet

The tambalacoque, also known as the "dodo tree", was hypothesized by Stanley Temple to have been eaten from by Dodos, and only by passing through the digestive tract of the dodo could the seeds germinate; he claimed that the tambalacocque was now nearly extinct due to the dodo's disappearance. He force-fed seventeen tambalacoque fruits to wild turkeys and three germinated. Temple did not try to germinate any seeds from control fruits not fed to turkeys so the effect of feeding fruits to turkeys was unclear. Temple also overlooked reports on tambalacoque seed germination by A. W. Hill in 1941 and H. C. King in 1946, who found the seeds germinated, albeit very rarely, without abrading.[12][13][14][15]

[edit] Extinction

Landscape with birds - dodo painted by Roelant Savery (1628).
Landscape with birds - dodo painted by Roelant Savery (1628).

As with many animals evolving in isolation from significant predators, the dodo was entirely fearless of people, and this, in combination with its flightlessness, made it easy prey.[16] But journals are full of reports regarding the bad taste and tough meat of the dodo, while other local species such as the Red Rail were praised for their taste. It is commonly believed that the Malay sailors held the bird in high regard and killed them only to make head dressings used in religious ceremonies.[17] However, when humans first arrived on Mauritius, they also brought with them other animals that had not existed on the island before, including dogs, pigs, cats, rats, and Crab-eating Macaques, which plundered the dodo nests, while humans destroyed the forests where the birds made their homes;[18] currently, the impact these animals – especially the pigs and macaques – had on the dodo population is considered to have been more severe than that of hunting. The 2005 expedition's finds are apparently of animals killed by a flash flood; such mass mortalities would have further jeopardized an already extinction-prone species.[19]

Although there are scattered reports of mass killings of dodos for provisioning of ships, archaeological investigations have hitherto found scant evidence of human predation on these birds. Some bones of at least two dodos were found in caves at Baie du Cap which were used as shelters by fugitive slaves and convicts in the 17th century, but due to their isolation in high, broken terrain were not easily accessible to dodos naturally.[20]

There is some controversy surrounding the extinction date of the dodo. Roberts & Solow state that "the extinction of the Dodo is commonly dated to the last confirmed sighting in 1662, reported by shipwrecked mariner Volkert Evertsz" (Evertszoon), but many other sources suggest the more conjectural date 1681. Roberts & Solow point out that because the sighting prior to 1662 was in 1638, the dodo was likely already very rare by the 1660s, and that thus a disputed report from 1674 cannot be dismissed out-of-hand.[21] Statistical analysis of the hunting records of Issac Johannes Lamotius give a new estimated extinction date of 1693, with a 95% confidence interval of 1688 to 1715. Considering more circumstantial evidence such as travellers' reports and the lack of good reports after 1689,[20] it is likely that the dodo became extinct before 1700; thus, the last Dodo died barely more than a century after the species' discovery in 1581.[22]

Few took particular notice of the extinct bird. By the early 19th century it seemed altogether too strange a creature, and was believed by many to be a myth. With the discovery of the first batch of dodo bones in the Mare aux Songes and the reports written about them by George Clarke, government schoolmaster at Mahébourg, from 1865 on,[23] interest in the bird was rekindled. In the same year in which Clarke started to publish his reports, the newly-vindicated bird was featured as a character in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. With the popularity of the book, the dodo became a well-known and easily recognizable icon of extinction.

[edit] Cultural references

Alice and Dodo — illustration by John Tenniel
Alice and Dodo — illustration by John Tenniel

The Dodo rampant appears on the coat of arms of Mauritius.[18] A smiling dodo is the symbol of the Brasseries de Bourbon, a popular brewer on Reunion Island.

Its significance as one of the best-known extinct animals and its singular appearance has led to its use in literature and popular culture to symbolize a concept or object that will or has become out of date, expressed in the expression "dead as a dodo" or "gone the way of the dodo".[24][25]

It is also used by environmental organizations that promote the protection of endangered species, such as the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Jersey Zoological Park, founded by Gerald Durrell.[26]

Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow depicts the story of a Dutch sailor/explorer and his encounters with dodo birds.

Howard Waldrop's short story "The Ugly Chickens" tells the story of a researcher who finds modern remains of the dodo in Northern Mississippi

In Douglas Adams's novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, a time-traveling attempt to save the coelacanth turns out to be the cause of the dodo's extinction.

The dodos are mentioned in J. K. Rowling's book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In the book, it is stated that the "diricawls" are flightless birds that can disappear and appear anywhere else. For this reason, Muggles (non-magical people) think they are extinct, and call them dodos.

The "Do-Do" is a character introduced in the 1938 Warner Bros. animated short, Porky in Wackyland and in Dough for the Do-Do, he is now yellow, green and red. Another dodo, Gogo Dodo is a recurring character on the children's cartoon show Tiny Toon Adventures.

In an episode of Superman: The Animated Series, Superman was kidnapped by a species preserver who collected beings that were the last of their species. During his escape, he came across a dodo. After the preserver was defeated, Superman took in the endangered species plus the dodo to his Fortress of Solitude.

"Dodo/Lurker" are a suite of tracks on the album Abacab by the British band Genesis.

Dodos are featured in the Zoo Tycoon 2: Extinct Animals expansion pack.

In the film Follow That Bird, Big Bird is placed into the care of a family of dodos in Oceanview, Illinois, by a well-meaning social worker.

The extinction of the Dodos is portrayed humorously in the movie Ice Age

They are also mentioned in Jasper Fforde's novel The Eyre Affair. Thursday Next, the novel's main character, has a pet dodo named Pickwick. In the novel dodos are a popular pet brought back from extinction through genetic engineering.

The dodo is featured in the ITV show Primeval. They are portrayed as being rather energetic, always running around and bumbling into things, and they are also shown as being extremely trusting, which would probably be correct, since they had no reason to fear humans. The dodos in Primeval are the carriers of a dangerous cestode parasite, which eventually results in the death of the dodos infected.

"Dodo" is the title of a song by Dave Matthews, lead singer of The Dave Matthews Band, off of his 2003 solo album titled Some Devil. The song asks the question of whether the very last dodo bird was aware of being the very last one.

[edit] References

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2004). Raphus cucullatus. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-07. Database entry includes justification for why this species is listed as extinct.
  2. ^ Staub, France (1996): Dodo and solitaires, myths and reality. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Arts & Sciences of Mauritius 6: 89-122 HTML fulltext
  3. ^ a b Dodo skeleton find in Mauritius. BBC News (2006-06-24). Retrieved on 2006-08-28.
  4. ^ Quammen, David (1996): The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction. Touchstone, New York. ISBN 0684827123
  5. ^ Shapiro, Beth; Sibthorpe, Dean; Rambaut, Andrew; Austin, Jeremy; Wragg, Graham M.; Bininda-Emonds, Olaf R. P.; Lee, Patricia L. M. & Cooper, Alan (2002): Flight of the Dodo. Science 295: 1683. doi:10.1126/science.295.5560.1683 (HTML abstract) Supplementary information
  6. ^ See Raphidae as for why the date "25 mya" is suspect
  7. ^ DNA yields dodo family secrets. BBC News (2002-02-28). Retrieved on 2006-09-07.
  8. ^ Johnson, Kevin P. & Clayton, Dale H. (2000): Nuclear and Mitochondrial Genes Contain Similar Phylogenetic. Signal for Pigeons and Doves (Aves: Columbiformes). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 14(1): 141–151. PDF fulltext
  9. ^ Scientists find 'mass dodo grave'. BBC News (2005-12-24). Retrieved on 2006-09-07.
  10. ^ Dodo Skeleton Found on Island, May Yield Extinct Bird's DNA. National Geographic (2007-07-03). Retrieved on 2007-07-09.
  11. ^ Kitchener, A. On the external appearance of the dodo, Raphus cucullatus. Archives of natural History, 20, 1993.
  12. ^ Temple, Stanley A. (1977): Plant-animal mutualism: coevolution with Dodo leads to near extinction of plant. Science 197(4306): 885-886. HTML abstract
  13. ^ Hill, A. W. (1941): The genus Calvaria, with an account of the stony endocarp and germination of the seed, and description of the new species. Annals of Botany 5(4): 587-606. PDF fulltext (requires user account)
  14. ^ King, H. C. (1946). Interim Report on Indigenous Species in Mauritius. Government Printer, Port Louis, Mauritius.
  15. ^ Witmer, M. C. & Cheke, A. S. (1991): The dodo and the tambalacoque tree: an obligate mutualism reconsidered. Oikos 61(1): 133-137. HTML abstract
  16. ^ Scientists pinpoint dodo's demise. BBC News (2003-11-20). Retrieved on 2006-09-07.
  17. ^ James, Bradly. 1998. The History of Mauritius. Lowell House: Boston. 34-35.
  18. ^ a b Jonathan Fryer (2002-09-14). Bringing the dodo back to life. BBC News. Retrieved on 2006-09-07.
  19. ^ Tim Cocks (2006-06-04). Natural disaster may have killed dodos. Reuters. Retrieved on 2006-08-30.
  20. ^ a b Janoo, Anwar (2005): Discovery of isolated dodo bones [Raphus cucullatus (L.), Aves, Columbiformes] from Mauritius cave shelters highlights human predation, with a comment on the status of the family Raphidae Wetmore, 1930. Annales de Paléontologie 91: 167–180. [English with French abstract] DOI:10.1016/j.annpal.2004.12.002 (HTML abstract) Hume et al ref probably too.
  21. ^ Roberts, David L. & Solow, Andrew R. (2003): Flightless birds: When did the dodo become extinct? Nature 425(6964): 245. doi:10.1038/426245a (HTML abstract)
  22. ^
  23. ^ Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865.
  24. ^ Steve Miller (2006-09-25). First The Dodo, Now Full-Size SUV. Brand Week. Retrieved on 2006-09-26.
  25. ^ Water ford Wildlife. Water ford Today (2006-01-01). Retrieved on 2006-09-26.
  26. ^ Dee pa Unhook (2006-09-26). Mauritius: Footprints From the Past. expresser's. Retrieved on 2006-09-26. (requires subscription)

[edit] See also

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[edit] External links

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