Overview

Brief Summary

Introduction

The flightless dodo, Raphus cucullatus, was native to the island of Mauritius, in the south-western Indian Ocean.On 20 September 1598, a Dutch fleet commanded by Admiral Wybrant van Warwijck found a channel through the reef encircling Mauritius, and initiated the permanent settlement of the island.Less than a century later, the dodo was extinct, and other species followed rapidly. A close relative, Pezophaps solitaria, lived on the nearby island of Rodrigues, but suffered a similar fate to the dodo.
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In 1598, when a Dutch ship arrived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, its sailors found a paradise clothed in a dense forest of ebony and bamboo and filled with bewildering wildlife. Many of the animals there were found nowhere else in the world, including a large flightless bird that would eventually be called the Dodo. One hundred years after its discovery the Dodo had vanished making it the first documented case of extinction caused solely by human interference.

Because Mauritius is a volcanic island and was never attached to the mainland, it had no mammals other than bats that had flown there. With no natural predators, the Dodo’s ancestors lost their ability to fly, adopted a ground-nesting habit, and became larger. Seventeenth-century observers commented on its diet of seeds, fruit, and probably tree roots.

The Dodo’s flightless nature made it vulnerable once humans arrived. It was easily hunted by European sailors and colonists who also began to cut down its forest home. Even more devastating were the effects of the non-native animals brought to the island. The pigs, cats, dogs, rats, and crab-eating macaques that arrived underwent a spectacular population explosion in an environment devoid of other mammals. Roaming dogs killed adult Dodos, while the rats, monkeys, and cats preyed on eggs and chicks.

By the middle of the 1600s Dodos were extremely rare and the species was almost certainly extinct before 1700. The date of the last sighting is disputed. For a long time, the date was thought to be 1681, from the account of sailor and scientist Benjamin Harry. Yet many commentators now think Harry may have been referring to another flightless bird, the Mauritian red rail, and the Dodo went extinct earlier.

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Comprehensive Description

Biology

A model of the dodo (Raphus cucullatus), covered in swan and goose feathers. This extinct, large, flightless bird was probably much more upright and graceful than depicted in many images. There are no stuffed dodos in existence. Although the dodo is probably the most famous bird in the world, we know very little about its biology.Contemporary accounts describe the taste of their meat, but give little or no information about their feeding, their mating rituals, their calls or other behaviour.Before the Dutch claimed Mauritius in the late 1500s, this large, flightless bird had no natural predators and laid its eggs on the ground. This made them an easy target for introduced species such as rats and pigs.No genuine dodo eggs are known, although ostrich eggs have been passed off as dodo eggs.
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Distribution

Range Description

Raphus cucullatus is known from numerous bones, specimen fragments, reports and paintings from Mauritius (Strickland and Melville 1848). It was last reported from an offshore islet by Iversen in 1662 (Cheke 1987), and although there was a report by an escaped slave in 1674 and statistical techniques indicate that it is likely to have persisted until 1690 (Roberts and Solow 2004), it is generally considered that all references to "dodos" thereafter refer to Red Rail Aphanapteryx bonasia (Cheke 2006).

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Dodo birds were once the inhabitants of Mauritius, a small, oyster-shaped island which lies approximately 500 miles east of Madagascar. (Britannica, 1986)

Biogeographic Regions: indian ocean (Native )

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Range

Formerly Mauritius I. Extinct; last seen 1662.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Physical Description

Morphology

Our present day knowledge of what the dodo looked like is based on several sources. There are accounts from the diaries and writings of the sailors and captains who landed on Mauritius in the 16th and 17th century, drawings from the few humans who were able to witness them alive (although, it can't even be proven that all the artists who rendered the dodo ever actually saw one). There are a few fossils excavated from the island, which are kept at the British Museum, and a foot and a beak which are preserved at Oxford, but there are no complete stuffed specimens (models in museums are based on partial remains). From these records and pictures, scientists and ornithologists have pieced together a fairly detailed composite of the dodo.

The dodo was a large, plump bird covered in soft, grey feathers, with a plume of white at its tail. It had small wings that were far too weak to ever lift the dodo off the ground. Because it was flightless, those who saw the bird often thought it had no real wings at all, describing them as "little winglets." Study of the skeleton reveals, however, that the dodo did in fact have wings that were simply not used for flight, much like penguins' wings. The dodo's legs were short and stubby and yellow in color. On the end of the legs were four toes, three in front and one acting as a thumb in back, all with thick, black claws. The head was a lighter grey than the body, with small, yellow eyes. Many words have been devoted to the long, crooked and hooked beak, which was light green or pale yellow in color and was one of the most distinguishing features of the dodo. Those who saw it, marveled at the unique shape and size. One witness went so far as to describe it as grotesque. (Strickland and Melville, 1848; Fuller, 1987; Greenway, 1958; Britannica, 1986)

Range mass: 13000 to 23000 g.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It was mainly a species of the dry lowland forests (Owadally 1979), although possible mutualism with the upland tambalacoque tree Calvaria major (Temple 1977) suggests that it may have ranged into the hills (Hachisuka 1953). Evidence suggests it was predominantly herbivorous (Rijsdijk et al. 2009). The species was flightless (Livezey 1993) and tame (Hachisuka 1953).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Although many pictures and stories place the dodo along the shores of Mauritius, it was actually a forest-dwelling bird. The island of Mauritius is home to a variety of biomes, such as plains, small mountains, forests, and reefs all along the shores. However, the dodo made its home primarily in the forest. (Fuller, 1987; Britannica, 1986)

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest ; scrub forest

Aquatic Biomes: reef

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The dodo was endemic to the island of Mauritius, in the south-western Indian Ocean.
  • Until recently, it was believed that this bird was restricted to the coastal forests of Mauritius, since most of the skeletal remains were found in a marsh in the south east.
  • Recent cave finds suggest that dodos inhabited the cooler highlands, or at least spent some of their lives there.
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Trophic Strategy

Scientists thoughts on the diet of the dodo are based mainly on speculation. Some sailors' accounts talk of watching dodos wade into water-pools to catch fish. They have been described as "strong and greedy" hunters. What really fascinated the visitors to Mauritius, however, was the fact that dodos seemed to eat stones and iron frequently and with no trouble. It is now surmised that the rocks eased digestion. (Strickland and Melville, 1848; Fuller, 1987)

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Reproduction

Specifics about mating and incubation periods are not known. Several people have described the nests the dodo made as being deep in the forest, in a bed of grass. There, the female would lay one egg, which she would protect and raise. One sailor told about hearing the cries of a young dodo in its nest, which sounded "like that of a young goose." (Fuller, 1987; Greenway, 1958)

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EX
Extinct

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Symes, A. & Butchart, S.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species was found in Mauritius, but is now Extinct as a result of hunting by settlers and nest predation by introduced pigs. Birds thought to represent the last individuals were killed on the offshore islet Ile d'Ambre in 1662.

History
  • Extinct (EX)
  • Extinct (EX)
  • Extinct (EX)
  • Extinct (EX)
  • Extinct (EX)
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The first group of sailors believed to have arrived on Mauritius were Portuguese, led by Captain Mascaregnas, in 1507. They had intended to land on the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, but stormy conditions had blown them off course and they ended up finding respite on Mauritius. Several other expeditions, Portuguese, Dutch, British and others, made stops at the island in the following years. In the dodos, the sailors found amusement and, when they were running out of supplies, food.

The Dutch colonized Mauritius in 1644 . Along with groups of people, the ships brought cats, dogs, swine and sometimes monkeys. These animals quickly invaded the woods, trampling the nests and frightening the birds. These domestic creatures also devoured the dodo eggs and young. The interference of the foreign animals coupled with the continued overuse of the birds for food led to its total extinction by 1681. (Strickland and Melville, 1848; Britannica, 1986)

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: extinct

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Threats

Major Threats
Due to its tameness and large size it was very heavily hunted for food by sailors (Hachisuka 1953).

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