Dodos may have been smarter than originally thought.
Everybody has seen drawings of the famous dodo bird, the symbol for stupidity and laziness, but new research into the species says they may have been incorrectly portrayed by the humans who discovered them prior to their extinction, according to Live Science.
It only too about 100 years from the time dodos were found by humans on their native island of Mauritius by Dutch explorers for the birds to become extinct, occurring in about 1662. The birds, never exposed to humans, initially had no fear of the invaders, and that made them easy to kill for food, and quite possibly, caused the early explorers to decide the birds were too stupid to defend themselves.
A few of the birds were captured and returned to Europe, where they were kept as pets for the affluent, and were most likely fed on human food and kept in cages or pens, causing the birds to gain weight. New research suggests the birds would not have been as chubby in the wild as those pictured in the books and journals of the age.
Eugenia Gold of Stony Brook University, one of the researchers on the study, said the dodos’ skull indicated these birds had brain-to-body sizes that were similar to today’s pigeons, considered a relatively smart bird. Pigeons have shown they are capable of recognizing human faces, and are considered very trainable, with mathematical skills similar to those of rhesus monkeys.
Gold, an anatomist, speaking in a statement about the dodos’ skull, said, “It’s not impressively large or impressively small — it’s exactly the size you would predict it to be for its body size. So if you take brain size as a proxy for intelligence, dodos probably had a similar intelligence level to pigeons.”
Gold and her colleagues conducted a CT scan on the skull of a dodo from the Natural History Museum in London, and also that of a dodo cousin, from an island in the Indian Ocean, that went extinct in the 1700’s, likely due to over-hunting as well. The scans showed the body-to-brain ratio of the birds were similar, and also contained a particularly large olfactory bulb, responsible for smells. This led the researchers to believe the flightless birds relied on smell to find food for their diets of fruit, shellfish and small land animals.
Gold and her colleagues published their findings in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.