Surprise: Dodos Were Actually Pretty Smart

They also had an unusually keen sense of smell
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 24, 2016 6:29 AM CST
Surprise: Dodos Were Actually Pretty Smart
This model of the extinct dodo bird will be on display in the American Museum of Natural History's upcoming Dinosaurs Among Us exhibit.   (American Museum of Natural History/C. Chesek)

The poor dodo bird. It wasn't enough that the humans who happened upon the exotic creatures on the island of Mauritius in the late 1500s slaughtered them for food and brought about their extinction less than 100 years later, but we then started using their name to be synonymous with stupid. This appears to be an unfair indignity, natural scientists report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. A CT scan of a well-preserved skull at the Natural History Museum in London in fact indicates that the dodo appears to have been rather intelligent. Using the brains and bodies of seven species of closely related pigeons as a guide, one researcher says the brains of dodos are "right on the line," reports

"It is really amazing what new technologies can bring to old museum specimens," says a study co-author. The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) was a large and flightless bird last seen in 1662. Stony Brook University researchers also report another surprising finding: the bird had a large olfactory bulb quite unusual among most birds, who tend to have exceptional eyesight. This could be related to the amount of time they spent close to the ground, likely sniffing around for food such as fruits, small land vertebrates, and marine animals like shellfish. The researchers also noted an unusual curve to the dodo’s semicircular ear canal, which governs balance, but they have yet to devise a working hypothesis. (Check out what else one well-preserved dodo skeleton tells us about the 40-pound bird.)

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