Temporal range: Late Holocene
| Raphus cucullatus|
(Carl Linnaeus, 1758)
The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is an extinct flightless bird that was endemic to the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. The species died out before 1700, less than a hundred years after encountering men. The dodo's closest genetic relative was the also extinct Rodrigues solitaire, the two forming the subfamily Raphinae of the family of pigeons and doves. The closest living relative of the dodo is the Nicobar pigeon. A white dodo was once thought to have existed on the nearby island of Réunion, but this is now thought to have been confusion based on the Réunion ibis and paintings of white dodos.
Subfossil remains show the dodo was about 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) tall and may have weighed 10.6–21.1 kg (23–47 lb) in the wild. The dodo's appearance in life is evidenced only by drawings, paintings, and written accounts from the 17th century. Because these vary considerably, and because only some illustrations are known to have been drawn from live specimens, its exact appearance in life remains unresolved. Similarly, little is known with certainty about its habitat and behaviour. It has been depicted with brownish-grey plumage, yellow feet, a tuft of tail feathers, a grey, naked head, and a black, yellow, and green beak. It used gizzard stones to help digest its food, which is thought to have included fruits, and its main habitat is believed to have been the woods in the drier coastal areas of Mauritius. One account states its clutch consisted of a single egg. It is presumed that the dodo became flightless because of the ready availability of abundant food sources and a relative absence of predators on Mauritius.
The first recorded mention of the dodo was by Dutch sailors in 1598. In the following years, the bird was hunted by sailors and invasive species, while its habitat was being destroyed. The last widely accepted sighting of a dodo was in 1662. Its extinction was not immediately noticed, and some considered it to be a mythical creature. In the 19th century, research was conducted on a small quantity of remains of four specimens that had been brought to Europe in the early 17th century. Among these is a dried head, the only soft tissue of the dodo that remains today. Since then, a large amount of subfossil material has been collected on Mauritius, mostly from the Mare aux Songes swamp. The extinction of the dodo within less than a century of its discovery called attention to the previously unrecognised problem of human involvement in the disappearance of entire species.
In Pop Culture
The dodo's significance as one of the best-known extinct animals and its singular appearance led to its use in literature and popular culture as a symbol of an outdated concept or object, as in the expression "dead as a dodo," which has come to mean unquestionably dead or obsolete. Similarly, 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. "Dodo" is also a slang term for a stupid, dull-witted person, as it was supposedly stupid and easily caught.
In 1865, the same year that George Clark started to publish reports about excavated dodo fossils, the newly vindicated bird was featured as a character in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It is thought that he included the dodo because he identified with it and had adopted the name as a nickname for himself because of his stammer, which made him accidentally introduce himself as "Do-do-dodgson", his legal surname. The book's popularity made the dodo a well-known icon of extinction.
- It also appears in the show, Wild Kratts.
- The Dodo makes an appearance in the fina episode of the 6 part PBS NATURE program Triumph of Life.
- The Dodo makes a small appearance in Jurassic World: The Game as a food source for some of the Cenozoic animals, such as Andrewsarchus.
- The Dodo makes a small appearance in Superman the animated series Season 1 The Main Man Part 2.
- It also appears in most of the Ice Age films & games, as minor characters used for comedy.
- It also appears in the Science Fiction series Primeval.
- It also appears in David Attenborough's National History Museum Alive.
- It appears in ARK: Survival Evolved.
- It also appears in Jurassic Park: Builder as a limited herbivore in the Glacier Park.
- It also appears in Zoo Tycoon 2: Extinct Animals.
In the Harry Potter series, the Dodo is actually a magical creature called the Diricrawl that can vanish at will, making humans believe that it is extinct.
The poet Thomas Lovell Beddoes included a lyric in his play Death's Jest-Book in which the spirit of an aborted fetus considers reincarnating as various animals, concluding:
I’ll be a new bird with the head of an ass,
Two pigs’ feet, two mens’ feet, and two of a hen;
Devil-winged; dragon-bellied; grave-jawed, because grass
Is a beard that’s soon shaved, and grows seldom again
Before it is summer; so cow all the rest;
The new Dodo is finished. O! come to my nest.
The poet Hilaire Belloc included the following poem about the dodo in his Bad Child's Book of Beasts from 1896:
The Dodo used to walk around,
And take the sun and air.
The sun yet warms his native ground –
The Dodo is not there!
The voice which used to squawk and squeak
Is now for ever dumb –
Yet may you see his bones and beak
All in the Mu-se-um.