Gigantic pigeons

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Dodo Dutch engraving

Gigantic pigeons.

The attached illustration is taken from this publication. The Dutch noticed on the island, apart from the great variety of birds and tortoises, a very peculiar creature – a huge bird, one and half times bigger than a swan (some descriptions say twice as big), that could not fly as instead of wings it had only three symbolic feathers, similar to the quill that were used for writing at that time. The round body was decorated with a few curly feathers that suggested the signs of a tail. They had massive legs, as all flightless birds and a large head that looked as if it was covered with a cap. Hunting them was easy, and this is probably where their Portuguese name originated – dodo – idiot. The Dutch ethymology of dodo relates to their heaviness – it means ‘fat bottom’.

At the time sea voyages would bring back more interesting memoirs of the foreign countries and islands, and so a couple of live dodo were brought back to Europe. Unfortunately, not long after, they all died and all that is left of them are random bones and incomplete skeletons in various museums. Painters became interested in the strange bird, and there are some quite intricate drawings and paintings depicting the dodo. Roeland Savery, in his oil painting (1626) depicting the inhabitants of paradise, did not hesitate to include this strange bird.

As the sea voyagers were always partial to meat, many birds ended up in the pot. The opinions of the meat varied greatly – some loved it, while others loathed it. It why the Dutch called dodo a wallowbirdes, which means abominable bird. It had the strange property that the longer you boiled it, the tougher it got. [...]

Dodo (Raphus cucullatus)

A brief history of the dodo

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

A brief history of the dodo bird:

The Dodo were huge birds of unknown species that existed only on the island of Mauritius which had no human habitation prior to 1598. Due to its short wings and bulky body the dodo could not fly or flee in the face of danger. [...]

The story of the Dodo is indeed a tragic one. Firstly, human visitors, mainly the Dutch, used to kill them for food. Those that survived became prey to animals such as pigs, rats and monkeys that had been introduced into the island by sailors. By the year 1681 the last Dodo had died. The manner in which the Dodo were obliterated from the surface of the earth has left a lasting impact on the natural history of our global eco-system: in fact a lesson in extinction to humanity. So much so, that the English expression ‘As dead as the Dodo’ had to be coined to emphasize the concept of total annihilation or non-existence (by death) of something, or someone, or some idea, either in the literal or abstract sense.

The text doesn’t add many addition information, if you already read the other texts posted here, but it’s good to know that the The Mauritius Web Directory has some info about dodos.

The Dodo Life of Long Ago

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Bones found recently on its home, Mauritius

A New York Times‘ article from July about the new expedition to explore Mauritius’ sites: Newfound Island Graveyard May Yield Clues to Dodo Life of Long Ago:

The origins of the dodo are mysterious. Studies on its DNA indicate that it descended from pigeons. The dodo’s closest relative was the solitaire, another extinct flightless bird that lived only on the nearby island of Rodrigues. [...]

Plant-eating mammals play a major role in shaping their ecosystems. Dodos may have thinned the Mauritius forests, and some plants may have come to depend on them to spread their seeds.

With almost no fossils to study, scientists had been unable to test these ideas. Now it will be possible, thanks to the discovery of the dodo graveyard. Dr. Rijsdijk and Frans Bunnik, also of the Geological Survey of the Netherlands, found it almost by accident. [...]

Based on the underlying geology of the site, Dr. Rijsdijk estimates that it is 3,000 years old. More precise dating based on carbon isotopes is now under way.

Dr. Rijsdijk said that the fossils appeared to have formed in a forest lake. A big storm may have washed the animals and plants into the lake, where their bones settled into a single layer.

“Think of it like a snapshot,” Dr. Burney of Fordham said. “You set up a big camera and photograph the landscape at a particular instance. You’ve got the dodos and the other species, all captured in a moment.”

The scientists are now studying the material more carefully. Some are looking for ancient DNA, while others will analyze the dodo bones to get clues to their diet. “We may be really be able to shine a light on the dodo’s role in the ecosystem,” Dr. Rijsdijk said. The scientists will present early findings at the University of Oxford in September and will return to Mare aux Songes in 2007.

By understanding the Mauritius ecosystem before humans arrived, they hope to find clues to the dodo’s extinction. Dodos were easy to hunt, but hunting alone probably did not wipe them out. Recent research indicates that the early Dutch settlers rarely ate dodo meat. Nor did the deforestation of the island doom the dodo. Major forest clearing did not begin until after the dodo became extinct.

BTW, use Firefox and the bug me not extension to read the article if you don’t want to create an account there.

Dodos killed by natural disaster

Monday, July 3rd, 2006

From Reuters: Scientists say dodos killed by natural disaster. Scientists who unearthed a mass dodo grave in Mauritius say they have found evidence showing the birds were killed by a natural disaster long before humans arrived on the Indian Ocean island.

“There are indications that the fossil-rich layer represents the result of natural disaster wiping out a significant part of the Dodo-ecotope,” a statement by the researchers said.

While the latest find does not disprove the human theory, the scientists are convinced there was a mass dodo death, possibly caused by a cyclone or flood, pre-dating the arrival of humans, Christian Foo Kune, owner of the site, told Reuters.

“The fact that there are such a wide range of animals there, small and big ones, suggests that there was a sudden natural disaster,” Foo Kune said. “The mass grave also shows no domestic animals, so it is prior to the arrival of man.”

The bones were thought to be at least 500 years old, he added. “We could be talking about a cyclone or repeated cyclones, flooding or a sudden rise in (sea) water levels that trapped the animals there,” he said.

That’s an extract of the article, which is very interesting indeed. But who am I going to blame now?

Update: Reuters removed the article’s page, and I removed the broken link.

Dodo skeleton at the Naturalis Museum

Saturday, July 1st, 2006

Dodo skeleton at the Naturalis Museum

A replica of a Dodo skeleton at the Naturalis Museum in Leiden, the Netherlands, Friday, Dec, 23, 2005. Last October 28, a Dutch-Mauritian research team discovered Dodo remains on the southeastern part of Mauritius, the material’s age is estimated at 2000to 3000 years.

Bones will reveal life of dodo

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

Mauritius dodo model

After the news by journalists, the news by specialists, not so much different from the others, from the Natural History Museum: Bones will reveal life of dodo:

The new finds will help to piece together the environment the dodo lived in and will help us understand more about how it become extinct.

Scientists hope to find the first complete articulated skeleton of an individual dodo. This will help reveal how the dodo moved around, whether they walked with a waddle or hopped with a skip.

Terracota dodo

That’s probably not so big news to make you go to the site, so here it is more arguments: images of the dodo in their Picture Library, Dodo model at the birds gallery, and, as they suggest “Take a Dodo architectural tour. The last one was my favourite part. It doesn’t have many texts, however there are two short and amusing videos: The Dodo’s changing image, with an analysis of “Dodo expert Julian Hume” about the famous painting by Roelandt Savery, and The Dodo – The merging of myth and reality a great interview with Julian Hume made in 2003.

Dodo by Roelandt Savery

Dodos at AMNH

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

Dodo Model Dodo Squeleton

The Dodo at the American Museum of Natural History. I bet you saw that page before, many times (if you ever made a search for dodos). I saw it, many times before, and that’s a good reason for post it.

Something there sounds funny for me: the dodos are in the same area as the dinosaurs. Hum… giant dodos! Ok, silliness apart, here is part of the short text about dodos there:

The Dodo’s stubby wings and heavy, ungainly body tell us that the bird was flightless. Moreover, its breastbone is too small to support the huge pectoral muscles a bird this size would need to fly. Yet scientists believe that the Dodo evolved from a bird capable of flight into a flightless one. When an ancestor of the Dodo landed on Mauritius, it found a habitat with plenty of food and no predators. It therefore did not need to fly, and, as flying takes a great deal of energy, it was more efficient for the bird to remain on the ground. Eventually, the flightless Dodo evolved.

Dodo Expeditie Weblog

Monday, June 19th, 2006

Dodo Expeditie Weblog

Naturalis, the site of the National Museum of Natural History of Netherlands created a weblog to keep the people informed about new Dodo expedition:

Leiden, 29 May 2006 On Friday, 2 June 2006, an international research team will depart for a 32-day expedition to Mauritius. This expedition will follow up Dutch scientists major find in autumn 2005 of a unique treasure trove of exceptionally rare Dodo remains. The purpose of the current expedition is to reconstruct the world of the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) before Western man set foot on the island of Mauritius and wiped out the species. The expedition will seek to clarify the Dodos ecotope and explain why it became extinct.

The blog is called Dodo Expeditie Weblog and it has almost daily updates with interesting information of what this group of international multidisciplinary team composed by geologists, palaeontologists, botanists, sedimentologists, palynologists, ancient DNA specialists and archaeologists are doing to discover Who or what killed the Dodo. I loved that and I suggest to you sign the blog as I did. Don’t worry, you can chose the English version if your Dutch is so good as mine.

In Dodoland