Dodo - Raphus cucullatus

Kingdom Animalia (animals)


Dodo Skull

Photos: Above a reconstruction of the dodo in its natural environment on the island of Mauritius. Below a reconstruction of a dodo skull from the National Museum of Natural History 'Naturalis' in Leiden, the Netherlands. Created and photographed in 2002 by Peter Maas for The Sixth Extinction Website. The images are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 3.0 licence.

Phylum Chordata (chordates)
Class Aves (birds)
Order Columbiformes (pigeons)
Family Raphidae (dodos and solitaires)
Genus Raphus
Species Raphus cucullatus
Authority (Linnaeus, 1758)
TSEW Status Extinct (EX), Year assessed: 2010
IUCN Status Extinct (EX), Year assessed: 2008
English Name Dodo, Mauritius Dodo, Common Dodo
Chinese Name 渡渡鸟
Czech Name Dronte mauricijský
Danish Name Dronte
Dutch Name Dodo, Mauritiusdodo
Finnish Name Mauritiuksendodo, Drontti
French Name Dronte de Maurice, Dodo
German Name Dodo, Dronte
Icelandic Name Dúdúfugl
Italian Name Dodo di Mauritius
Polish Name Dronty
Portuguese Name Dodó, Dodo das Maurícias
Norwegian Name Dronte
Spanish Name Dodo, Dronte
Swedish Name Dront
Turkish Name Dodo, Mauritius Dodosu

Struthio cucullatus Linnaeus, 1758; Didus ineptus Linnaeus, 1766.


There are two speculations on where the name for the dodo came from. The more accepted source is the Dutch word "dodoor" which mean "sluggard." This word describes both the dodo's looks and appearance. The other speculation is that the name comes from the Portuguese word "doudo" which, meaning foolish or simple.


Dodo ReconstructionsThe length of the dodo was about 100cm (3ft, 3in) and weighed to 20 kg. It had large legs, short little wings, a short neck and a 23cm long enormous thick, bowed beak. At the end of its thickset figure the dodo had a tussle feathers. The plumage of the dodo was greyish with darker upperparts and lighter on throat and abdomen. The tail feathers were whitish. The thighs were blackish. The bare part of the face was probably ash-coloured, while the feet and legs were yellow. The iris was probably whitish, and its beak green or black, perhaps with some yellow. (Fuller, 2000)

Photos: a new and the old dodo reconstruction. Photographed by Peter Maas (2002) at a temporary dodo exposition in the National Museum of Natural History 'Naturalis' in Leiden, the Netherlands. Created by Peter Maas for The Sixth Extinction Website. This image has been licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 3.0 licence.

The dodo couldn't fly and toddled on a stiff way. There aren't many bones preserved today, and only one complete skeleton. This is making it difficult to estimate the true proportions. By analysing their bones has come up that the dodo probable wasn't a thick, clumsy bird at all, but looked more like the dodo on the left-hand picture. Our image of the dodo comes from old European drawings and accounts. It can be a romanticised version of the truth.

The sailors who landed on Mauritius found much amusement in watching the clumsy dodo's behaviour. There is a story one told of watching a dodo attempt to escape in a hurry. When it tried to run away, (wobble may be a more accurate term), its belly would drag on the ground and slow him down. But for the most part, the dodo is described as a lazy, rather dumb animal. It had virtually no defences against predators, except for its large beak which could deliver a "fearsome bite" if the occasion arose, such as a threat to itself or its young. The call of the dodo was probable very similar to that of a young goose, while other sources say they didn't made a sound at all.


Scientists thoughts on the diet of the dodo are based mainly on speculation. Some sailors' accounts talk of watching dodos wade into water-pools to catch fish. They have been described as "strong and greedy" hunters. What really fascinated the visitors to Mauritius, however, was the fact that dodos seemed to eat stones and iron frequently and with no trouble. It is now surmised that the rocks eased digestion. The dodo did eat seeds and fruits.

Stanley Temple, a University of Wisconsin ornithologist, hypothesized that the extinction of the dodo was responsible for the near extinction of the tambalacoque or calvaria tree (Sideroxylon grandiflorum, formerly Calvaria major). He proposed that dodo and tambalacoque represented an obligation animal-plant mutualism in which the tambalacoque seeds had to pass through the dodo digestive system before they could germinate. Temple assumed the tambalacoque's fruit, with its thick and hard endocarp, would mechanically prevent germination unless worn down by the dodo digestive system. He drafted a flock of turkeys to serve in a germination experiment. Of the seventeen tambalacoque pits he force-fed to the turkeys, his dodo-substitute, only three germinated. Temple also claimed that no tambalacoque trees were less than 300 years old, but had no data to support that other than second-hand estimates. Tambalacoque trees have no annual rings so their age is not easy to determine. Temple published in a very prestigious journal that gave his appealing hypothesis added credibility and widespread attention. The hypothesis has been widely adopted as fact by many biology books and webpages as an example of an obligate animal-plant mutualism. If his hypothesis was true, it would be a good example of the consequences of the extinction of a species in an ecosystem. (Hershey 2004; Temple 1977)

After his publication several scientists have rebutted Temple's hypothesis. There exist tambalacoque trees in the wild on Mauritius that are less than 300 years old. There were also not 13 trees left in 1973 as he claimed, but several hundred. The decline in the tambalacoque population has been caused by other factors such as large-scare deforestation, destruction of seeds by fungal diseases, and introduced plants and animals. Temple also overlooked reports on tambalacoque seed germination by Hill (1941) and King (1946), who found the seeds germinated without abrading. Tambalacoque is analogous to Peach. Both have a hard endocarp, surrounding the seed but the endocarp naturally splits along a fracture line during germination. Temple made a fundamental error by not having a control treatment of uneaten pits in his germination experiment with turkeys. It is now also known that tambalacoque seeds do germinate naturally without the dodo and without artificially abrading the endocarp. While dodos may have eaten tambalacoque fruits, there is no solid evidence they did. Nor is there solid evidence that the dodo was absolutely required for seed germination. This was a great story when it was first reported in the early 1970's, but it was proven to be false. (Hershey 2004; Hill 1941; King 1946)


The dodo bred the whole year. She did lay 1 egg on with grassy parts of the forest, which did hatch after 49 days. Stories tell that the birds clapped with their wings as a mating ritual. They were monogamous; thus they stayed their whole lives together with the same partner. Both parents took care of the young dodos.

Range & Habitat

Range DodoDodo birds were once the inhabitants of Mauritius, a small, oyster-shaped island which lies approximately 500 miles east of Madagascar. Many images and stories place the dodo along the coasts of Mauritius, but actually was the dodo a forest-dwelling bird. The island of Mauritius has many different biotopes, like plains, small mountains, forests, marshes, reefs, etc., but as told before the dodo lived particularly in the forests.

Image: map showing the location of the island of Mauritius, the former range of the dodo. Created by Peter Maas for The Sixth Extinction Website. This image has been licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 3.0 licence. This applies worldwide.

History & Population

Studies indicate that the proto-dodo/solitaire and the ancestor of the genus Caloenas, the closest relative of the Dodo, diverged in the mid to late Eocene, around 43 Ma, whereas the dodo and the solitaire separated in the late Oligocene, about 26 Ma. The latter date is biogeographically interesting as it is considerably older than the islands of Mauritius and Rodriguez. Geological evidence suggests that Mauritius emerged in a series of volcanic events, the earliest of which occurred around 7 Ma, whereas Rodriguez did not emerge until 1.5 Ma. Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that the large genetic distance between the dodo and the solitaire resulted from isolation on the two islands.

Drilling projects have established that ridges surrounding the Mascarene Plateau were above sea level in the late Oligocene and have subsided slowly thereafter. The similarity between the timing of the dodo/solitaire divergence and the first geological evidence of land in the Mascarene island chain is striking and suggests that island steppingstones may have been used before the two species eventually found their way to Mauritius and Rodriguez. The solitaire and dodo reached their new homes by air, later evolving flightlessness independently.

While Arab and Malay sailors knew of Mauritius as early as the 10th century and Portuguese sailors first visited it in 1505. The first account of the dodo came in 1507 from Portuguese sailors, led by Captain Mascaregnas. The island remained uninhabited until 1638 when it was colonized by the Dutch. They named the island in honour of Prince Maurice of Nassau. In the dodos, the sailors found amusement and, when they were running out of supplies, food.

Along with groups of people, the ships brought cats, dogs, swine and sometimes monkeys. These animals quickly invaded the woods, trampling the nests and frightening the birds. These domestic creatures also devoured the dodo eggs and young. The interference of the foreign animals coupled with the continued overuse of the birds for food led to its total extinction. However, it seems reports of its demise at the hands of hungry European sailors were 30 years premature. The extinction of the dodo is commonly dated to the last sighting in 1662, reported by Volkert Evertsz on an islet off Mauritius. By this time the dodo had become extremely rare, the previous sighting having been 24 years earlier, but the dodo probably persisted unseen beyond this date. (Roberts & Solow, 2003)

The most recent sightings are from 1662, 1638, 1631, 1628, 1627, 1611, 1607, 1602, 1601 and 1598. An escaped slave named Simon claimed to have seen a dodo as recently as 1674. The last account of live birds is by Benjamin Harry, chief mate on the Berkley Castle, who claimed that dodos were still present on Mauritius in 1681. However, the reliability of these claims are open to question. The French Huguenot François Leguat, whose journals provide us with much knowledge on the extinct Rodriguez solitaire Pezophaps solitarius arrived on Mauritius in 1693. Despite the attention he gave to natural history in his reports, Leguat did not mention the Dodo. It is assumed that the bird must have disappeared before 1693. (Roberts & Solow, 2003; Staub, 1996; Van den Hoek Ostende, 1999)

David Roberts of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom, and Andrew Solow of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts, USA, report in the journal Nature that they have developed a statistical method to estimate how long a species probably survives after its last recorded sighting. They used the 10 most recent sightings of the bird to calculate when the dodo might have died out. The analysis suggested that the last dodo died not in 1662 but 28 years later, in 1690. It soon became the best-known example of an extinct animal, leading to the expression "dead as a dodo". (BBC News, 2003; Roberts & Solow, 2003)

Dodo bones discovered on Mauritius in 2005

On Friday, October 28, 2005, a Dutch-Mauritian research team discovered the very first intact layer of bones and botanical materials, including Dodo remains. The material's age is estimated at 2000 to 3000 years. This new find will allow for the first scientific research into and reconstruction of the world in which the Dodo lived, before western man landed on Mauritius and wiped out the species. (Naturalis, 2005)

The fossil material was excavated in an area of Mauritius called "Mare aux Songes", a low-lying swamp area in the dry southeastern part of the island. The discovery yielded several Dodo bones, including remains of Dodo chicks and a very rare part of the bird's beak, only a few of which are known to exist in the entire world. In addition to the Dodo remains, the find included bones of various other extinct bird species, indigenous giant tortoise species, and a baby giant tortoise, as well as a large number of seeds and remains of (partly) extinct trees and plants. The location of all bones in a single layer leads scientists to believe this is a mass grave. (Naturalis 2005)

Dodo expedition 2006-2010

Dodo ExpeditionFrom 2 June to 3 July 2006 an international research team of Dutch, British and local biologists, geologists and archaeologists have dug for dodo bones on Mauritius. This expedition followed up Dutch-Mauritian scientists major find in autumn 2005 of a unique treasure trove of exceptionally rare Dodo remains. The purpose of the expedition was to reconstruct the world of the Dodo before Western man set foot on the island of Mauritius and wiped out the species. The researchers want also answer the question on what has been the cause of the disappearance of the dodo and its environment. The expedition has ended successful. (Naturalis 2006a; Naturalis 2006b)

Photos: The excavation centre and some bones that have been found. Courtesy by NCB Naturalis (Naturalis 2010). All right reserved.

Besides dodo bones, including the complete part of a dodo skeleton, the first ever finding is recorded of largely complete shields and articulated leg bones of the two species of Giant Tortoises (Cylandrispis sp.). In addition dr. Julian Hume positively identified for the very first time ever bones of the red-white-blue pigeon (Pigeon Hollandaise). In addition bones of the flightless Mauritian Red Rail, Mascarene owl and various passerines and other birds (jet to be identified) are found. Beak and bones of one of the world largest ever parrots the giant parrot Lophosittacus mauritianus are found. Bones of the giant skink Didosaurus and fruit bats were found. Abundant seeds and tree stems of ebony, the nearly extinct Dodo tree (Tambalacoque) and various palms are found. (Naturalis 2006b)

The fossil dodo-biotope in its context provides unprecedented research potential in order to reconstruct the world of the Dodo and determine the factors of its demise. The fossil rich layer may represent a single catastrophic event. A natural disaster may have led to the accumulation of animals and plant remains in the lake, this will be further investigated. Part of the research is devoted the determining the factors causing the demise of the Dodo. Preliminary research results obtained from Fort Frederik Hendrik (1638 -1710) supervised by drs. Pieter Floore and drs. Ranjith Jayasena suggests contrary to common believe, the Dodo was not part of the Dutch diet. Other causes of the demise of the Dodo are now under investigation. DNA research by dr. Beth Shapiro of the University of Oxford will shed light in the human induced change in the Dodo-ecosystem and its evolution. Bone research by dr. Lorna Steel (Museum of Isle of Wight Geology) will provide insight in the diet and growth patterns of the Dodo. The vegetation development history will be based on microfossil research by dr. Frans Bunnik (TNO Geological Survey of the Netherlands). In September 2006, the first results were presented at a seminar has be held at University of Oxford. (Naturalis 2006b)

Every year afterwards until present a new dodo expedition went to Mauritius. From 5 to 22 August 2010 a team of researchers went to Mauritius for the fifth dodo expedition. They will study the role of climate change with the mass dying of more than half a million animal, including dodos, about 4.000 years ago. The mass grave in the Mare aux Songes is presumably the richest area with fossils ever been found on a volcanic island. (Naturalis 2010)

A non-profit charity-based Dodo Research Foundation has been set up to collect funding for further research. On the website research results will be published. (Naturalis 2006b)

Extinction Causes

The dodo came unsuspecting toward to the visitors and became this way an easy prey, due to that they didn't had any natural enemies and hadn't ever seen a human. The birds were killed for food by thousands. The main purpose dodos served to humans, in the brief contact between the two species, was as food. The sailors frequently fed on wildlife from Mauritius while staying there, although it has been said that dodo meat was not particularly tasty. Still, they were hunted intensely, with sailors sometimes bringing back as many as 50 at a time. What they couldn't eat right away they would salt and bring back with them. They didn't become extinct only by hunting, but also by the pigs, rats, dogs and cats, who were brought to the island by the first inhabitants. The on the ground laying eggs and dodo chicks were an easy prey for these introduced animals.

Conservation Attemps

A few attempts were made to bring back a dodo alive. When this was successful, entrepreneurs would capitalize on the unique looks of the bird and tour the dodos around Europe, displaying them in cages and demonstrating how the dodo could "eat" stones. For example, in 1626, a dodo has been on display in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. However no conservation attempts have been made.


Scientists have extracted DNA from a dodo, raising the prospect that the animal whose name is synonymous with extinction could be resurrected. British experts have recovered fragments of genetic material from a preserved head and foot kept in Oxford University's Museum of Natural History. The research has already identified the closest living relative and may pave the way to the recreation of the species. However, the genetic material has deteriorated into millions of fragments. Once scientists have worked out the key genes that made the dodo unique, they could then create genetically engineered DNA to put into the nucleus of an egg and hatch a dodo-like bird using one of the pigeons identified by Cooper's survey. It would, however, be almost impossible to recreate a perfect dodo, because its genetic code, which survives only in tiny fragments, could most likely never be worked out to a sufficiently high degree of accuracy. (Farrar 1999; Shapiro et al. 2002)

Museum Specimens

All that remains of the dodo is a head and foot at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, a foot in the British Museum in London, a head in Copenhagen, and a variety of bones strewn across museums in Europe, the United States and Mauritius. The Natural History Museum of Mauritius (Musee d'Histoire Naturelle de Port Louis) has the only complete skeleton of one single dodo, found in the swaps of Mare-Aux Songes, Mauritius. The European and American skeletons are assembled from bones of many different birds. Museums with dodo remains and/or reconstructions are: Oxford (UK), Leiden (Netherlands), Copenhagen (Denmark), Port Louis (Mauritius) and many more.


The nearest relative of the dodo, which lived also on the Mascarenes, is the Rodrigues Solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria) which lived on the island Rodriguez. The Réunion Solitaire (Raphus solitarius), which is supposed to have lived on the island of Réunion, could also be a close relative. However, this third dodo species was most likely misidentified. In reality it was most likely the Réunion Flightless Ibis (Threskiornis solitarius).

Some sources mention a fourth dodo species, the Nazarath Dodo Didus nazarenus. It was described in 1848 in the Bulletin of the Russian Academy Imperial of the Sciences from the Professor Hamel, that is dedicated to a revision of the then available literature. Nazarenus should be derived from the usual mishap reserved to the names. Here the sequence: walghvogel - oiseau de nausée - oiseau de Nazareth. This is the interpretation of Hamel. But the island of Tromelin would be able to be the former island of Nazareth. Nevertheless, until time and money will not allow it, nothing dell will be known' real existence of the Didus nazarenus. This website won't recognises this as a real species until we receive more evidence.

Nicobar PigeonResearchers at the University of Oxford, UK, have taken samples from a preserved specimen in an attempt to uncover the extinct bird's family tree in 2002. The Oxford team worked with the Natural History Museum to collect and analyse genetic material from a preserved dodo, from the similarly extinct Rodriguez solitaire, and from another 35 kinds of living pigeon and dove. Their analysis confirmed that the Dodo and the Rodrigues Solitaire were, as expected, each others closest relative. What is less expected is that these two extinct flightless giants are nested deep inside the pigeon family tree. In other words, dodos are more closely related to some flying pigeons than those flying pigeons are to other flying pigeon. Among living pigeons, the dodos are most close to the Nicobar Pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica), a beautiful pigeon from South East Asia. Almost as closely related are the crowned pigeons (Goura sp.) of New Guinea. The unusual Samoan tooth-billed pigeon (Didunculus strigirostris), originally named for its dodo-like beak, is the basal member of this strongly supported group of large, generally ground-dwelling, island endemics. Furthermore, the phylogeographic distribution of this morphologically diverse group suggests that the dodo and the Rodriguez solitaire dispersed from Southeast Asia to the Mascarenes at some point in the past. (Shapiro et al., 2002)

Photo: Nicobar Pigeon at Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Australia. Photographed by Gordon Wrigley. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. A full resolution version can be found at Wikimedia Commons.


Dodo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Tragedy of the Dodo (1598-1681)

Naturalis - Dodo Expeditie 2010


BBC News. (2003). Scientists pinpoint dodo's demise. ( Downloaded on 01 February 2006.  

Farrar, F. (1999). DNA Science could rebuild dead dodo. The Sunday Times (21 March 1999).

Fuller, E. (2000). Extinct birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Hershey, D. R. (2004). The widespread misconception that the tambalacoque absolutely required the dodo for its seeds to germinate. Plant Science Bulletin 50: 105-108.

Hill, A. W., (1941). The genus Calvaria, with an account of the stony endocarp and germination of the seed, and description of the new species. Annals of Botany 5: 587-606.

King, H. C., (1946). Interim Report on Indigenous Species in Mauritius. Port Luis, Mauritius: Government Printer.

Naturalis. (2005). New Dodo bones discovered on Mauritius. Press Release (23 December 2005). Leiden, The Netherlands.

Naturalis. (2006a). New Dodo expedition: Dutch initiative and interactive. Press Release (22 May  2006). Leiden, The Netherlands.

Naturalis. (2006b). Dodo expedition ends successfully. Press Release. Leiden, The Netherlands.

Naturalis. (2010). Wat deed het klimaat met de dodo en zijn tijdgenoten? Wetenschappelijk team onderzoekt massale sterfte op Mauritius. Persbericht 4 augustus 2010, Leiden. [in Dutch]

Roberts, D.L., Solow, A.R. 2003. Flightless birds: When did the dodo become extinct? Nature 426, 245-245. Brief Communications.

Shapiro, B., Sibthorpe, D., Rambaut, A., Austin, J., Wragg, GM., Bininda-Emonds, O.R.P., Lee, P.L.M., Cooper, A. (2002). Flight of the Dodo. Science 295, 1683.

Staub, F. (1996). Dodos and Solitaires, Myths and Reality, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Arts & Sciences of Mauritius, vol 6, pp.89-122.

Temple, S.A. (1977). Plant-Animal Mutualism: Coevolution with Dodo Leads to Near Extinction of Plant. Science 26 August 1977: Vol. 197. no. 4306, pp. 885 - 886.

Van den Hoek Ostende, L.W. (1999). Dodo - The archetype of an extinct animal. 300 Pearls - Museum highlights of natural diversity. Downloaded on 1 February 2006.

Citation: Maas, P.H.J. (2010). Dodo - Raphus cucullatus. In: TSEW (). The Sixth Extinction Website. <>. Downloaded on .
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Updated: 17 August 2010


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