Even today little is known about the dodo. Its origin, appearance as well as its way of life are pretty much a mystery. Incredibly, for a long period of time its very existence was questioned. It wasn’t until the 19th century, when remains from various museums were examined and recognized as a real, albeit extinct species.
In popular culture it is often depicted as rather stupid and clumsy, more of a caricature than a real animal. However, based on the latest research scientist now believe that this is far from the truth. Its ancestors probably arrived at the small island of Mauritius millions of years ago, where deprived of natural predators they grew in size and slowly lost their ability to fly. The few preserved skeletal remains actually show signs that it was a sturdy, agile animal, able to move quickly through the trees of the island’s forests. This is also supported by the observations of one 17th century sailor, who noted that the dodos were speedy and hard to catch.
The size and shape of their skull points to having a brain, proportional to their size, so although they were probably not extremely intelligent, they certainly weren’t also stupid. This myth probably was due to the fact that without natural predators, in the beginning many birds would simply walk up to the humans out of sheer curiosity.
Although the exact cause for the dodo’s demise are unclear, humans are at least indirectly to blame. There is little evidence to suggest that the birds were hunted to extinction, as there were simply never that many settlers on the island and they did prefer to feed on their own animals. However, those same animals – pigs, goats, deer, as well the rats that came with the ships would have posed a serious threat to the eggs and chicks of the dodo. This, combined with the clearing of the forests, lead to a steady decline in their numbers and sometime during the late 17th century, after a mere 100 years, the dodos went extinct.
The modern image of the dodo was made famous by Lewis Carroll in his famous book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In it The Dodo is a caricature of the author himself, and as such is deliberately made to act silly. It is a popular belief that he chose the dodo in particular, because of his real family name – Dodgson and his stutter, which would often lead him to introduce himself as Do-do-dodgson.