Who wouldn't have known the iconic dodo? You know, the one Lewis Carroll might've liked so much he made a caricature of the author on his book Alice in Wonderland?
Unfortunately, people today won't be able to see its beauty more so know their lifestyle. But extinct it may be, today's researchers still get to show us these legendary birds' infamous lifestyle.
The Dodo is historically a non-flying pigeon that lived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. The species was wiped out, however, within 100 years after the Dutch's colonisation of the island in the sixteenth century.
“We know so little about these birds that everything was basically a surprise,” says study leader Delphine Angst of the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
By analyzing the structure and composition of 22 bones from 22 dodos, they found that dodo's life cycle may have evolved to be in sync with Mauritius seasonal weather cycles. For one, they had to live by the harsh weather and food shortages during austral summer (November to March). They even started to shed and re-grow their damaged feathers.
“By July, they would have completely new plumage and the next reproduction cycle starts,” says Angst. The month of August would then be females' ovulation time and laying of eggs which would soon hatch in September. The next months would be full of hatchling's rapid growth and preparation for the next austral summer.
This moulting cycle may be the reason why sailors seem to describe dodos differently. “Some report downy black plumage, probably at the beginning of moulting. Some describe a mix of downy plumage and real feathers. And some report dodos covered with real feathers, probably corresponding to birds that had completed the cycle,” says Angst.
Juvenile dodos' bones were also surprisingly rich in fibrolamellar bone full of immature bone cells, explaining how they grow rapidly. Other bones had large cavities that suits the moulting cycle. “To produce new feathers, the birds need extra calcium, and the cavities show they were extracting it from the bones,” says Angst. Even females' bones were found to differ as they contain a supplementary tissue called medullary bone, essential in making egg shells.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!