The Secret Life of Dodos, Revealed

Manila Bulletin, August 25, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Secret Life of Dodos, Revealed


By Agence France-Presse

Has any animal suffered greater ignominy than the ill-fated dodo?

"A strange and grotesque specimen of bird... bearing a ridiculous bent bill," was the verdict of early 17th century Dutch admiral and explorer Wybrand van Warwijck.

Subsequent expeditions of sailors feasted on the helpless fowl even as they disparaged the flavour of its flesh as "the devil's chicken".

By 1680, the dodo -- found only on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius -- was extinct, wiped out by human appetites and invasive species brought by settlers.

So deep was our contempt for this hapless creature that during a century of co-habitation no one bothered to closely observe its habits, or accurately describe its anatomy.

And then, it was too late.

Adding insult to injury, early scientists dubbed the dodo "Raphus cucullatus," and decided that it belonged to the same family as the lowly pigeon.

It's informal name may be derived from the Dutch term "dodoor", which mean sluggard. Another candidate is "dodaers", which translates as "plump arse".

Perhaps both.

"The dodo is frequently described as a stupid, fat bird," said Delphine Angst, a biologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

"But truth be told, we know almost nothing about it."

In a study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, lead author Angst and colleagues from the Natural History Museum in London make important headway in filling that knowledge void.

Using techniques that would impress Sherlock Holmes, they mapped out the animal's reproductive and growth cycle. …

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