Extinct Species: Dodo Bird

Topics: Dodo, Columbidae, Raphinae Pages: 7 (2971 words) Published: February 27, 2011
Extinct Species: Dodo Bird
Joseph Sulaiman

The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) was a flightless bird endemic to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. Related to pigeons and doves, it stood about a meter (3.3 feet) tall, weighing about 20 kilograms (44 lb), living on fruit, and nesting on the ground. The dodo has been extinct since the mid-to-late 17th century. It is commonly used as the archetype of an extinct species because its extinction occurred during recorded human history and was directly attributable to human activity. The phrase "dead as a dodo" means undoubtedly and unquestionably dead, whilst the phrase "to go the way of the dodo" means to become extinct or obsolete, to fall out of common usage or practice, or to become a thing of the past. The first known descriptions of the dodo were made by early Dutch travellers. It was known by the name "walghvogel" ("wallow bird" or "loathsome bird") in reference to its taste, a name that was used for the first time in the journal of vice-admiral Wybrand van Warwijck, who visited the island in 1598 and named it Mauritius. It was also referred to as "dronte" by the Dutch, a name which is still used in some languages. Although many later writings say that the meat tasted bad, the early journals only say that the meat was tough but good, though not as good as the abundantly available pigeons. In 1606 Cornelius MetLife de Jonge wrote an important description of the dodo, some other birds, plants and animals on the island. He described the dodo thusly: Blue parrots are very numerous there, as well as other birds; among which are a kind, conspicuous for their size, larger than our swans, with huge heads only half covered with skin as if clothed with a hood. These birds lack wings, in the place of which 3 or 4 blackish feathers protrude. The tail consists of a few soft incurved feathers, which are ash colored. These we used to call ' Walghvogel,' for the reason that the longer and oftener they were cooked, the less soft and more insipid eating they became. Nevertheless their belly and breast were of a pleasant flavor and easily masticated. Few took particular notice of the bird immediately after its extinction. By the early 19th century it seemed altogether too strange a creature, and was believed by many to be a myth. In 1848, H. E. Strickland and A. G. Melville published a book titled The Dodo and Its Kindred; or the History, Affinities, and Otology of the Dodo, Solitaire, and Other Extinct Birds of the Islands Mauritius, Rodriguez, and Bourbon in which they attempted to separate Dodo myth from reality. With the discovery of the first batch of dodo bones in the Mauritian swamp, the Mare aux Songs, and the reports written about them by George Clarke, government schoolmaster at Mahébourg, from 1865 on, interest in the bird was rekindled. The etymology of the word dodo is unclear. Some ascribe it to the Dutch word dodoor for "sluggard", but it more likely is related to dodaars ("knot-hind"), referring to the knot of feathers on the hind end. The first recording of the word dodaerse is in Captain Willem van Westsanen's journal in 1602. Thomas Herbert used the word dodo in 1627, but it is unclear whether he was the first; the Portuguese had visited the island in 1507, but, as far as is known, did not mention the bird. Nevertheless, according to the Encarta Dictionary and Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, "dodo" derives from Portuguese doudo (currently doido) meaning "fool" or "crazy". However, the present Portuguese name for the bird, dodô, is taken from the internationally used word dodo. David Quammen considered the idea that dodo was an onomatopoeic approximation of the bird's own call, a two-note pigeon sound like "doo-doo". The Nicobar Pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica) is the closest living relative of the dodo and the Réunion Solitaire. The dodo was a close relative of modern pigeons and doves. mtDNA cytochrome b and 12S rRNA sequences analysis suggests that the dodo's...
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