Fossil range: Late Holocene
|Dodo reconstruction reflecting new research at Oxford University Museum of Natural History|
|Former range (in red)|
The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) was a flightless bird endemic to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. Related to pigeons and doves, it stood about a meter (3 feet) tall, weighing about 20 kilograms (44 lb), living on fruit and nesting on the ground.
The dodo has been extinct since the mid-to-late 17th century. 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 phrase "dead as a dodo" means undoubtedly and unquestionably dead, whilst the 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.
The first known descriptions of the bird were made by the Dutch. They called the Mauritius bird the walghvogel ("wallow bird" or "loathsome bird") in reference to its taste. Although many later writings say that the meat tasted bad, the early journals only say that the meat was tough but good, though not as good as the abundantly available pigeons. The name walgvogel was used for the first time in the journal of vice-admiral Wybrand van Warwijck who visited the island in 1598 and named it Mauritius.
The etymology of the word dodo is not clear. Some ascribe it to the Dutch word dodoor for "sluggard", but it more likely is related to dodaars ("knot-arse"), referring to the knot of feathers on the hind end. The first recording of the word dodaerse is in captain Willem van Westsanen's journal in 1602. Thomas Herbert used the word dodo in 1627 but it is unclear whether he was the first one, for the Portuguese had already visited the island in 1507, but as far as is known did not mention the bird. Nevertheless, according to Encarta Dictionary and Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, "dodo" derives from Portuguese doudo (currently doido) meaning "fool" or "crazy". However, the present Portuguese name for the bird, dodô, is taken from the internationally used word dodo.
The dodo was a close relative of modern pigeons and doves. mtDNA cytochrome b and 12S rRNA sequences 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. 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 to show that the Southeast Asian Nicobar Pigeon is the closest living relative of the dodo and the Réunion Solitaire.
However, the proposed phylogeny is rather questionable regarding the relationships of other taxa 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.
The supposed "White Dodo" is now thought to be based on misinterpreted reports of the Réunion Sacred Ibis and paintings of apparently albinistic dodos; a higher frequency of albinos is known to occur occasionally in island species (see also Lord Howe Swamphen).
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, and several bones obviously belonging to the skeleton of one individual bird and preserved in natural position. 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. Manchester Museum has a small collection of Dodo bones on display.
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.
According to artists' renditions, the Dodo had greyish plumage, a 23-centimeter (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 synonym 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. 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. In captivity, with food readily available, the birds became overfed very easily.
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.
As with many animals that have evolved in isolation from significant predators, the dodo was entirely fearless of people, and this, in combination with its flightlessness, made it easy prey for humans. However, 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. 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; 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 a species already in danger of becoming extinct.
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.
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 of 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 thus a disputed report from 1674 cannot be dismissed out-of-hand. Statistical analysis of the hunting records of Isaac 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 travelers' reports and the lack of good reports after 1689, it is likely that the dodo became extinct before 1700; the last Dodo died a little more than a century after the species' discovery in 1581.
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 Mauritian swamp, the Mare aux Songes, and the reports written about them by George Clarke, government schoolmaster at Mahébourg, from 1865 on, 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.
The dodo is used by many 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.
The dodo's 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, as in the expression "dead as a dodo" or "gone the way of the dodo".
DODO (from the Portuguese Doudo, a simpleton), a large bird formerly inhabiting the island of Mauritius, but now extinct - the Didus ineptus of Linnaeus. When, in 1507, the Portuguese discovered the island which we now know as Mauritius they named it Ilha do from a notion that it must be the island of that name mentioned by Pliny; but most authors have insisted that it was known to the seamen of that nation as Ilha do Cisne- perhaps but a corruption of Cerne, and brought about by their finding it stocked with large fowls, which, though not aquatic, they likened to swans, the most familiar to them of bulky birds. In 1598 the Dutch, under Van Neck, took possession of the island and renamed it Mauritius. A narrative of this voyage was published in 1601, if not earlier, and has been often reprinted. Here we have birds spoken of as big as swans or bigger, with large heads, no wings, and a tail consisting of a few curly feathers. The Dutch called them Walgvogels (the word is variously spelled), i.e. nauseous birds, either because no cooking made them palatable, or because this island-paradise afforded an abundance of fare so much superior. De Bry gives two admirably quaint prints of the doings of the Hollanders, and in one of them the Walgvogel appears, being the earliest published representation of its unwieldy form, with a footnote stating that the voyagers brought an example alive to Holland. Among the company there was a draughtsman, and from a sketch of his, Clusius, a few years after, gave a figure of the bird, which he vaguely called "Gallinaceus Gallus peregrines," but described rather fully. Meanwhile two other Dutch fleets had visited Mauritius. One of them had rather an accomplished artist on board, and his drawings fortunately still exist (see article Bird). Of the other a journal kept by one of the skippers was subsequently published. This in the main corroborates what has been before said of the birds, but adds the curious fact that they were now called by some Dodaarsen and by others Dronten.1 Henceforth Dutch narrators, though several times mentioning the bird, fail to supply any important fact in its history. Their navigators, however, were not idle, and found work for their naturalists and painters. Clusius says that in 1605 he saw at Pauw's House in Leyden a dodo's foot, 2 which he minutely describes. In a copy of Clusius's work in the high school of Utrecht is pasted an original drawing by Van de Venne superscribed "Vera effigies huius avis Walghvogel (quae & a nautis Dodaers propter foedam posterioris partis crassitiem nuncupatur), qualis viva Amsterodamum perlata est ex insula Mauritii. Anno M.DC.XXVI." Now a good many paintings of the dodo drawn from life by Roelandt Savery (1576-1639) exist; and the paintings by him at Berlin and Vienna - dated 1626 and 1628 - as 1 The etymology of these names has been much discussed. That of the latter, which has generally been adopted by German and French authorities, seems to defy investigation, but the former has been shown by Prof. Schlegel (Versl. en Mededeel. K. Akad. Wetensch. ii. pp. 255 et seq.) to be the homely name of the dabchick or little grebe (Podiceps minor), of which the Dutchmen were reminded by the round stern and tail diminished to a tuft that characterized the dodo. The same learned authority suggests that dodo is a corruption of Dodaars, but, as will presently be seen, we herein think him mistaken.
s What has become of the specimen (which may have been a relic of the bird brought home by Van Neck's squadron) is not known. Broderip and Dr Gray have suggested its identity with that now in the British Museum, but on what grounds is not apparent.
well as the picture by Goiemare, belonging to the duke of Northumberland, dated 1627, may be with greater plausibility than ever considered portraits of a captive bird. It is even probable that this was not the first example painted in Europe. In the private library of the emperor Francis I. of Austria was a series of pictures of various animals, supposed to be by the Dutch artist Hoefnagel, who was born about 1545. One of these represents a dodo, and, if there be no mistake in Von Frauenfeld's ascription, it must almost certainly have been painted before 1626, while there is reason to think that the original may have been kept in the vivarium of the emperor Rudolf II., and that the portion of a dodo's head, which was found in the museum at Prague about 1850, belonged to this example. The other pictures by Roelandt Savery, like those in the possession of the Zoological Society of London and others, are undated, but were probably all painted about the same time- 1626-1628 . The large picture in the British Museum, once belonging to Sir Hans Sloane, by an unknown artist, but supposed to be by Roelandt Savery, is also undated; while the still larger one at Oxford (considered to be by the younger Savery) bears a much later date, 1651. Undated also is a picture in Holland said to be by Pieter Holsteyn.
In 1628 we have the evidence of the first English observer of the bird - one Emanuel Altham, who mentions it in two letters written on the same day from Mauritius to his brother at home (Proc. Zool. Soc. 18 74, pp. 447-449). In one he says: "You shall receue. .. a strange fowle: which I had at the Hand Mauritius called by ye portingalls a Do Do: which for the rareness thereof I hope wilbe welcome to you." The passage in the other letter is to the same effect, with the addition of the words "if it liue." In the same fleet with Altham sailed Sir Thomas Herbert, whose Travels ran through several editions. It is plain that he could not have reached Mauritius till 1629, though 1627 has been usually assigned as the date of his visit. The fullest account he gives of the bird is in his edition of 1638: "The Dodo comes first to a description: here, and in Dygarrois 3 (and no where else, that ever I could see or heare of) is generated the Dodo (a Portuguize name it is, and has reference to her simpleness,) a Bird which for shape and rareness might be call'd a Phoenix (wer't in Arabia:)" &c. Herbert was weak as an etymologist, but his positive statement, corroborated as it is by Altham, cannot be set aside, and hence we do not hesitate to assign a Portuguese derivation for the word.' Herbert also gave a figure of the bird.
Proceeding chronologically we next come upon a curious bit of evidence. This is contained in a MS. diary kept between 1626 and 1640, by Thomas Crossfield of Queen's College, Oxford, where, under the year 1634, mention is casually made of one Mr Gosling "who bestowed the Dodar (a blacke Indian bird) vpon ye Anatomy school." Nothing more is known of it. About 1638, Sir Hamon Lestrange tells us, as he walked London streets he saw the picture of a strange fowl hung out on a cloth canvas, and going in to see it found a great bird kept in a chamber "somewhat bigger than the largest Turky cock, and so legged and footed, but shorter and thicker." The keeper called it a dodo and showed the visitors how his captive would swallow "large peble stones. .. as bigge as nutmegs." In 1651 Morisot published an account of a voyage made by Francois Cauche, who professed to have passed fifteen days in Mauritius, or "l'isle de Saincte Apollonie," as he called it, in 1638. According to De Flacourt the narrative is not very trustworthy, and indeed certain statements are obviously inaccurate. Cauche says he saw there birds bigger than swans, which he describes so as to leave no doubt of his meaning dodos; but perhaps the most important facts (if they be facts) that he 3 i.e. Rodriguez; an error.
4 Hence we venture to dispute Prof. Schlegel's supposed origin of "Dodo." The Portuguese must have been the prior nomenclators, and if, as is most likely, some of their nation, or men acquainted with their language, were employed to pilot the Hollanders, we see at once how the first Dutch name Walghvogel would give way. The meaning of Doudo not being plain to the Dutch, they would, as is the habit of sailors, convert it into something they did understand. Then Dodaers would easily suggest itself.
relates are that they had a cry like a gosling ("it a un cry comme l'oison"), and that they laid a single white egg ("gros comme un pain d'un sol") on a mass of grass in the forests. He calls them "oiseaux de Nazaret," perhaps, as a marginal note informs us, from an island of that name which was then supposed to lie more to the northward, but is now known to have no existence.
In the catalogue of Tradescant's Collection of Rarities, preserved at South Lambeth, published in 1656, we have entered among the FIG. I. - Skeleton of a Dodo, Didus ineptus, Museum of Zoology, Cambridge, and cast of a Head in Oxford.
"Whole Birds," a "Dodar from the island Mauritius; it is not able to flie being so big." This specimen may well have been the skin of the bird seen by Lestrange some eighteen years before, but anyhow we are able to trace the specimen through Willughby, Edward Llwyd and Thomas Hyde, till it passed in or before 1684 to the Ashmolean collection at Oxford. In 1755 it was ordered to be destroyed, but, in accordance with the original orders of Ashmole, its head and right foot were preserved, and still ornament the museum of that university. In the second edition of a Catalogue of many Natural Rarities, &c., "to be seen at the place formerly called the Music House, near the West End of St Paul's Church," collected by one Hubert alias Forbes, and published in 1665, mention is made of a "Legge of a Dodo, a great heavy bird that cannot fly; it is a Bird of the Mauricius Island." This is supposed to have subsequently passed into the possession of the Royal Society. At all events such a specimen is included in Grew's list of their treasures which was published in 1681. This was afterwards transferred to the British Museum. It is a left foot, without the integuments, but it differs sufficiently in size from the Oxford specimen to forbid its having been part of the same individual. In 1666 Olearius brought out the Gottorffische Kunst Kammer, wherein he describes the head of a Walghviigel, which some sixty years later was removed to the museum at Copenhagen, and is now preserved there, having been the means of first leading zoologists, under the guidance of Prof. J. Th. Reinhardt, to recognize the true affinities of the bird.
We have passed over all but the principal narratives of voyagers or other notices of the bird. A compendious bibliography, up to the year 1848, will be found in Strickland's classical work,' and the list was continued by Von Frauenfeld for twenty years later.
1 The Dodo and its Kindred, by H. E. Strickland and A. G. Melville (London, 1848, 4to).
' Neu aufgefundene Abbildung des Dronte, by Georg Ritter von Frauenfeld (Wien, 1868, fol.).
The last evidence we have of the dodo's existence is furnished by a journal kept by Benj. Harry, and now in the British Museum (MSS. Addit, 3668. II. D). This shows its survival till 1681, but the writer's sole remark upon it is that its "fflesh is very hard." The successive occupation of the island by different masters seems to have destroyed every tradition relating to the bird, and doubts began to arise whether such a creature had ever existed. Dr Henry Duncan, Scottish minister and journalist, in 1828, showed how ill-founded these doubts were, and some ten years later William John Broderip with much diligence collected all the available evidence into an admirable essay, which in its turn was succeeded by Strickland's monograph just mentioned. But in the meanwhile little was done towards obtaining any material advance in our knowledge, Prof. Reinhardt's determination of its affinity to the pigeons (Columbae) excepted; and it was hardly until George Clark's discovery in 1865 of a large number of dodos' remains in the mud of a pool (the Mare aux Songes) that zoologists generally were prepared to accept that affinity without question. The examination of bone after bone by Sir R. Owen (Trans. Zool. Soc. vi. p. 49) confirmed the judgment of the Danish naturalist.
In 1889 Th. Sauzier, acting for the government of Mauritius, sent a great number of bones from the same swamp to Sir Edward Newton.' From these the first correctly restored and properly mounted skeleton was prepared and sent to Paris, to be forwarded to the museum of Mauritius. Good specimens are in the British Museum, at Paris and at Cambridge, England.
The huge blackish bill of the dodo terminated in a large, horny hook; the cheeks were partly bare, the stout, short legs yellow. The plumage was dark ash - coloured, with whitish breast and tail, yellowish white wings (incapable of flight). The short tail formed a curly tuft.
The dodo is said to have inhabited forests and to have laid one large white egg on a mass of grass. Besides man, hogs and other imported animals seem to have exterminated it. But the dodo is not the only member of its family that has vanished. The little island which has successively borne the name of Mascaregnas, England's Forest, Bourbon and Reunion, and lies to the southward of Mauritius, had also an allied bird, now dead and gone. Of this not a relic has been - handled by any naturalist. The latest description of it, by Du Bois in 1674, is very meagre, while Bontekoe (1646) gave a figure, apparently intended to represent it. It was originally called the "solitaire," but this name was also applied to Pezophaps solitarius of Rodriguez by the Huguenot exile Leguat, who described and figured it about 1691.
The solitaire, Didus solitarius of Gmelin, referred by Strickland to a district genus Pezophaps, is supposed to have lingered in the 3 E. Newton and H. Gadow, Trans. Zool. Soc. xiii. (1893) pp. 281 -302, pls.
FIG. 2. - The Solitaire of Rodriguez (Pezophaps solitarius). From Leguat's figure.
island of Rodriguez until about 1761. Leguat l has given a delightful description of its quaint habits. The male stood about 2 ft. 9 in. high; its colour was brownish grey, that of its mate more inclined to brown, with a whitish breast. The wings were rudimentary, the tail very small, almost hidden, and the thigh feathers were thick and curled "like shells." A round mass of bone, "as big as a musket ball," was developed on the wings of the males, and they used it as a weapon of offence while they whirled themselves about twenty or thirty times in four or five minutes, making a noise with their pinions like a rattle. The mien was fierce and the walk stately, the birds living singly or in pairs. The nest was a heap of palm leaves a foot high, and contained a single large egg which was incubated by both parents. The food consisted of seeds and leaves, and the birds aided digestion by swallowing large stones; these were used by the FIG. 3. - Skeleton of a male Solitaire, Pezophaps solitarius, Museum of Zoology, Cambridge.
Dutch sailors to sharpen their knives with. One of these stones, nearly an inch and a half in length, of extremely hard volcanic rock, is in the Cambridge museum. The fighting knobs mentioned above, are very interesting, large exostoses on one of the wristbones of either wing; they were undoubtedly covered with a thick, callous skin. Thousands of bones of this curious flightless pigeon were collected through Sir E. Newton's 2 exertions, and by H. H. Sclater on behalf of the Royal Society of London. The results are several almost complete skeletons of both sexes, composed however out of the enormous mass of the dissociated bones. (A.N.; H.F.G.)
Meaning: amatory; loving
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Fossil range: Recent
| Dodo reconstruction at the |
Oxford University Museum of Natural History
| Raphus cucullatus|
Former range (in red)
The Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is an extinct species of flightless bird. Like many other island birds, they lost the power of flight because it was no advantage where they lived. Dodos were in the same family as the pigeon, and were endemic (only lived on) the island of Mauritius. The Dodo is one of the first species known to have died because of humans: it has been extinct since the late 17th century.
The history of the word Dodo is not clear. The Dutch captain Wybrand van Warwijck discovered the island and the bird in 1598. He called the bird walgvogel, meaning "disgusting bird" because the meat was unpleasant to eat. Four years later, the Dutch captain Willem van Westsanen used the word Dodo for the first time.
The Encarta Dictionary and the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology say "Dodo" is a Portuguese word, coming from doido. It means "fool" or "crazy". Another idea is that dodo was a copy of the bird's own call, a two-note pigeon like sound, "doo-doo".
In 1606 Cornelis de Jonge wrote an important description of the Dodo, and of other animal and plants on the island.
The Dodo was a large bird and weighed about 50 lb (23 kg). They had grey feathers and yellow feet. Their big hooked bill was a green/yellow colour. It had short wings that were only stubs. They ate fruit, seeds and nuts. Portuguese sailors said that they saw the Dodos eating fish. They also ate rocks and stones which might have helped them digest food.
The dodo was not scared of people which made it easy to hunt and kill. Dogs, cats, rats and pigs were brought to the island and also killed the dodos. Because dodos built their nests on the ground, the new animals ate their eggs.. The forests were chopped down and the dodo lost its habitat. Within 80 years, the dodo was extinct.
The Dodo has not been seen since 1681. There are no complete examples of the Dodo in the world. The last known stuffed bird was at Oxford University and was thrown out as rubbish. Only a foot and a head are left. The American Museum of Natural History in New York has a skeleton on display. It was put together out of bones from several different Dodos. The Natural History Museum of Mauritius has the only complete skeleton of a Dodo, found in a swamp.
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