A recent study found that the Dodo bird wasn't nearly as stupid as people think they were.
We recently reported on a new study that indicates that the extinct dodo bird, which had a reputation for being a dumb animal, was actually fairly smart for a bird. So how was it so easily killed off when humans discovered it?
While the dodo wasn’t exactly a genius, scientists have determined it did have a brain the size of a pigeon, which are fairly intelligent creatures that can be trained. It also had a heightened sense of smell, which is unusual in birds because they tend to be focused on sight.
The large, flightless dodo bird disappeared more than 300 years ago, and its extinction is a sad tale of what can happen in a heartbeat when humans get involved.
The dodo grew to a height of 3 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed upwards of 50 pounds. The bird lived exclusively on the island of Mauritius, a volcanic island in the Indian Ocean. The bird thrived on the island, evolving in such a way that it lost its wings because it didn’t need them due to the lack of predators on the island.
Dutch sailors first described the bird in 1598, as they used Mauritius as a stopover point during voyages. Often starving for food, the sailors saw the dodos as a godsend, a ready supply of fresh meat, and they took advantage of it. Sailors hunted the bird over the coming decades, and also introduced invasive species that also began to threaten the bird.
“When the island was discovered in the late 1500s, the dodos living there had no fear of humans and they were herded onto boats and used as fresh meat for sailors,” Eugenia Gold, the lead author of the paper and an instructor in the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University, said in a statement. “Because of that behavior and invasive species that were introduced to the island, they disappeared in less than 100 years after humans arrived. Today, they are almost exclusively known for becoming extinct, and I think that’s why we’ve given them this reputation of being dumb.”
The last sighting of a dodo bird was in 1662. No one had really noticed its extinction when it happened. Some even questioned whether the creature ever really existed. However, scientists in the 19th century confirmed its existence by examining four specimens that included a dried head. Subfossil material has been found on the island since then.
What was truly surprising was just how quickly humans had managed to wipe them out. Even though the bird was relatively smart, it had developed in such a specialized way for that particular island that a violent disruption in the ecosystem with the arrival of humans was all it took to wipe them out almost instantly in evolutionary terms.