(WASHINGTON POST) Dodos, best known for being dead and, well, dumb, may not have been total doofuses. A study published Tuesday in Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society suggests that the birds had brains of about the same relative size as a modern pigeon’s. Brain size is far from everything in the intelligence game, so for all we know these birds were still total bozos. But the research highlights just how little we know about the biology of the birds we ate into extinction.
Raphus cucullatus disappeared forever in 1662, less than 30 years after humans first set up permanent camp on their native island of Mauritius. Not long before then, sailors who visited the island started hunting the birds for food. Because humans were able to usher the birds onboard and keep them docile and overfed until slaughtering time, our lasting impression of the dodo is of a lumbering, fatally stupid flightless beast. In reality, they were easy to herd onto ships because they’d never encountered humans and didn’t know enough to fear us – and they looked comically plump because hungry sailors fattened them up.
“I was not on a mission to redeem the dodo, but that’s what it turned out to be,” said lead author Eugenia Gold, a research associate and recent graduate of the American Museum of Natural History’s Richard Gilder Graduate School and an instructor in the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University.