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How little we've learned

November 13, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

In 1598, when Dutch colonizers arrived on the small island of Mauritius off the coast of Africa, they discovered a large, flightless bird that was unafraid of humans. Within one hundred years, the bird that became known as the dodo was extinct. For a long time, the reason for its extinction was attributed to the colonizers eating the bird, however we now know that the loss of the dodo’s habitat and the introduction of several invasive species attributed a much greater part to the dodo’s extinction. In fact, the first name given to the dodo was because of its bad taste. The dodo was first called walghvogel which means loathsome bird.

582px-Dodo_1

The dodo’s were large birds, they weighed about fifty pounds. They had a long bill short wings and a tuft of curly feathers on their backside. Their short wings, weight and weak sternum made flight impossible. It’s theorized that at one time the birds were able to fly but once they arrived on Mauritius they found an adequate food supply that they could thrive on and no natural enemies. Over many generations, the birds lost the ability to fly because of disuse.

The Dutch settlers began logging the forests of Mauritius shortly after arriving and the animals that they brought with them quickly invaded the island.  Pigs, rats, dogs and monkeys didn’t hunt or kill the dodos but they did eat their eggs. Dodos only laid one egg at a time and would leave their nests on the ground, which made easy pickings for the invasive species.

The last sighting of the dodo was in 1662. The last sighting before that was in 1638, only 40 years after the Dutch landed on the island. Though it’s believed that the dodo didn’t die out until 1693, The virtual disappearance of the bird after only a few decades is staggering and should serve as a reminder of the horrible impact that we can have on the ecosystem.

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Categories: Biology Tags: , , , , ,
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  1. March 27, 2010 at 7:27 pm

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