Extinct dodo bird's secrets revealed by bone study

Dodo chicks probably reached full size by November before cold weather set in, molted between March and July, and ovulated in early August, Angst says.
By Simon Smith | Aug 27, 2017
Scientists studying the bones of the extinct dodo bird are revealing long-held secrets of its biology and behavior, including when it molted, when it reached adulthood, and when it laid eggs.

The dodo, which was native to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, was driven to extinction during the 1600s after Dutch sailors arrived on the island. Habitat destruction, competition for food, and hunting by the settlers and the animals they brought with them all contributed to their demise.

One puzzling aspect seen in 17th century reports about the dodo is how contemporary descriptions of the bird vary significantly. For example, some said dodos were covered in soft downy feathers, while others described it with gray or black plumage. Now, researchers can explain the discrepancies.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

"It was usually believed that the descriptions are different because they were wrong," said first author Delphine Angst, a paleontologist from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, in a report by The Guardian. "But the descriptions are not wrong. Actually they describe the dodo in different states of moulting."

The scientists examined thin cross-sections of 22 leg and wing bones believed to be from 22 different dodos.

Among their other findings, the researchers learned that dodo bones have three layers of tissue just like modern birds. They also were able to distinguish between juvenile and adult bones, could see the slow way bone tissue developed as the young birds reached sexual maturity, and determined the times of year the dodos molted or ovulated.

Dodo chicks probably reached full size by November before cold weather set in, molted between March and July, and ovulated in early August, Angst says.

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