The dodo, (Raphus cucullatus) was a species of flightless bird inhabiting island of Mauritius off the coast of east Africa. First recorded in 1598, the dodo and the related solitaires of the nearby islands of Réunion and Rodrigues were extinct just over a century later by a combination of hunting and predation from animals brought by man; the phrase "dead as a dodo" entering the lexicon as a symbol of utter or complete obsolescence.
Skeletal remains indicate the dodo was fairly large, approximately 20 to 45 pounds in weight and just over 3 feet tall; captive birds brought to Europe would weigh over 50 pounds. The wings were rudimentary, the feet and legs short and thick. The head was large, ending in a long, hooked bill with the nostrils toward the end.
Contemporary paintings made on captive birds in Europe provide a glimpse of their plumage and coloration. They were gray in color, with the underside slightly-lighter in color. The tail was represented by several curled feathers, while the wings bore primary feathers in a color contrasting from gray; some paintings show them as white, cream, or yellow. The head was bare of feathers from the cheeks forward, the feathers behind displayed in a "hood" fashion, which lead to the scientific name cucullatus ("hooded") being coined in 1635.
The dodo became extinct in the late 1600s, and environmentalists blame human activity for this extinction; this idea is overwhelmingly supported by most known evidence. However, numerous species have always gone extinct each decade with or without human activity to blame.[Citation Needed] For example, the dodo might have been wiped out by disease. But the dodo captured people's imagination as one of the first recorded extinctions. The current leading scientific theory is that humans helped drive the dodo to extinction by bringing along rats and other animals to the island which damaged dodo habitats and destroyed dodo eggs, with human hunting also contributing to this. The introduction of humans and other animals was a threat to the dodo because it has been without any predators for the entirety of its existence, making it completely unafraid of humans and other new dangerous animals that humans introduced. Some recent evidence suggest that a natural disaster may have already put the species into decline before the arrival of humans; however, scientists conjecture that if such a disaster did in fact happen, it would not be sufficient enough to wipe out the dodo in its entirety and instead would just have expedited the effects of human intervention. The dodo was first sighted by humans in the early 1500s and it was extinct by the late 1600s; since it was not known by humans for very long and it was generally an unremarkable animal, the dodo quickly faded from people's minds and many actually thought of it as a myth until bones were discovered in the early 1800s.
The dodo has become emblematic for extinction, as in the expression "as dead as the dodo." Humorist Will Cuppy wrote, jokingly:
|“||The Dodo never had a chance. He seems to have been invented for the sole purpose of becoming extinct and that was all he was good for.||”|
Since all records indicate that dodo meat was tough and tasted bad and that the dodo wasn't particularly challenging to hunt, it may be so that the dodo was actually completely useless to humans.
A fictional dodo leads the Caucus-Race in Lewis Carroll's book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.; one of Tenniel's illustrations shows the Dodo presenting Alice with the prize of a thimble—her own thimble, as the Dodo had previously decided that Alice was responsible for providing the prizes. Carroll's depiction of the dodo is credited with reviving public interest in the bird as the book was released around the same time that dodo remains were being first discovered.
- Cuppy, Will, How to Become Extinct
- Chapter III, "A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale