Patrick O'Brian Discussion Forum

Life cycle of the dodo revealed


BULBOUS-beaked, plump and puny-winged, the dodo has been immortalised by humans in art, literature and song. But while the peculiar animals have inspired a panoply of research, not least as to whether they were really bird-brained or as corpulent as portraits implied, much about the dodo’s life has remained a mystery until now.

Scientists studying remains of the extinct avians say they have managed to put flesh on the bones of the dodo’s existence, revealing aspects of their life from when they laid eggs to how quickly they reached adulthood, and even that they shed and regrew their plumage each year . .


or, more formally:

‘CONCLUSION: This study of the bone histology of the dodo provides insight into the life history of this recently extinct bird. In order to deduce the timing of the events such as reproduction and molting we have considered the histological patterns, modern birds in Mauritius and the ecology of the area.

From these we propose that the breeding season started several months before the austral summer (around August) with ovulation in the females, and that it occurred after a period of potential fattening, which corresponds with the fat and thin cycles recorded in many Mauritian vertebrates, both living and extinct.

We further suggest, that after the eggs were laid and chicks hatched, they grew quickly to almost adult body size and attained sexual maturity before the cyclone period in the austral summer. Additionally, our findings could indicate that following the breeding season and the end of the austral summer, molting began (around March) with the replacement of the feathers of the wings and the tail first.

Thus, at the end of July, the molt would have been completed in time for the next breeding season. These novel findings about the life history of the dodo have been deduced from the bone microstructure and the proposed timing thereof appear to correlate well with the current observations of modern birds in Mauritius, and have been further corroborated by historical descriptions.

[Bone histology sheds new light on the ecology of the dodo (Raphus cucullatus, Aves, Columbiformes) Scientific Reports (2017). ]

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