With new insight on perhaps one of the most distinguished animals to have gone extinct in human history, researchers have stated that dodo was anything but low on intellect. Dodo, an extinct bird whose name has entered popular culture as a symbol of stupidity, was actually fairly smart.
An earlier study also quoted Leon Claessens, associate professor of biology at the College of the Holy Cross, stating, We discovered that the anatomy of the dodo we were looking at was not previously described in detail, Claessens said. There were bones of the dodo that were just unknown to science until now.
A research published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, finds that the overall size of the dodo’s brain in relation to its body size was on par with its closest living relatives. The researchers also discovered that the dodo had an enlarged olfactory bulb, the part of the brain responsible for smelling, an uncharacteristic trait for birds, which usually concentrate their brainpower into eyesight.
The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is an extinct flightless bird that was endemic to the island of Mauritius, east ofMadagascar in the Indian Ocean. Its closest genetic relative was the also extinct Rodrigues solitaire, the two forming the subfamily Raphinae of the family of pigeons and doves. The closest extant relative of the dodo is the Nicobar pigeon. A white dodo was once thought to have existed on the nearby island of R union, but this is now thought to have been confusion based on the R union ibis and paintings of white dodos.
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, said Eugenia Gold, the lead author of the paper, a research associate and recent graduate of the American Museum of Natural History’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, and an instructor in the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University.
It s commonly believed that the dodo went extinct because Dutch sailors ate the beast to extinction after finding that the bird was incredibly easy to catch due to the fact it had no fear of humans, (why it didn t fear the creature many times its size is a mystery for another day). This is, for the for the most part, pretty accurate. It is noted that after sailors landed and settled on the island in 1598, the dodo s population rapidly declined and other sources confirm that the dodo was indeed hunted by sailors looking for an easy snack, since the dodo s ungainly gait and lack of a third axis of movement made it relatively easy to catch.
To examine the brain of the dodo, Gold tracked down a well-preserved skull from the collections of the Natural History Museum, London, and imaged it there with high-resolution computed tomography (CT) scanning. In the American Museum of Natural History’s Microscopy and Imaging Facility, she also CT-scanned the skulls of seven species of pigeons, ranging from the common pigeon found on city streets, Columba livia, to more exotic varieties.
Out of these scans, Gold built virtual brain endocasts to determine the overall brain size as well as the size of various structures. Gold’s colleagues at the Natural History Museum of Denmark and National Museum of Scotland sent her the endocast for the dodo’s closest relative, the extinct island-dwelling bird Rodrigues solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria).
It’s not impressively large or impressively small — it’s exactly the size you would predict it to be for its body size, Gold said. So if you take brain size as a proxy for intelligence, dodos probably had a similar intelligence level to pigeons. Of course, there’s more to intelligence than just overall brain size, but this gives us a basic measure.
The authors suggest that, because dodos and solitaires were ground-dwellers, they relied on smell to find food, which might have included fruit, small land vertebrates, and marine animals like shellfish.
It is really amazing what new technologies can bring to old museum specimens, said co-author Mark Norell, Macaulay Curator of Paleontology and Chair of the Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. This really underscores the need for the maintenance and growth of natural history collections, because who knows what’s next.
The researchers also discovered an unusual curvature of the dodo’s semicircular canal, the balance organs located in the ear. But as of yet, there’s not a good hypothesis for this atypical feature.