The dodo was no dummy

an illustration of a dodo

Digital casts of the inside of a dodo skull (live specimen illustrated above) reveal that the notoriously quirky birds may have actually been quite intelligent. 

Biodiversity Heritage Library/ Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A 3-D model of the brain of the long-extinct dodo suggests that the birds may have been fairly intelligent — by bird standards.

Overhunting and habitat loss drove dodos (Raphus cucullatus) extinct about a century after humans invaded their island home, Mauritius, in 1507. The flightless birds appeared unafraid of human explorers, hence their reputation for stupidity.

Researchers at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen performed CT scans on a dodo’s skull and digitally reconstructed its outer brain structure. They did the same for eight other members of the pigeon family.

Dodos, it seems, had unusually large olfactory bulbs, which may have helped them sniff out fresh fruits, tiny mollusks and insects. Overall, the ratio of the dodo’s brain size to its body size — an indirect measure of intelligence — is on par with that of its pigeon relatives, the researchers report February 23 in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

Helen Thompson

Helen Thompson is the multimedia editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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