Researchers Create 3D Atlas of Dodo’s Skeletal Anatomy

A multinational team of scientists has created the first 3D atlas of the skeletal anatomy of the dodo ( Raphus cucullatus ), based upon two exceptional skeletons.

Researchers Create 3D Atlas of Dodo’s Skeletal Anatomy

The dodo ( Raphus cucullatus ) by Frederick William Frohawk, 1905.
The dodo is an extinct flightless bird that lived on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. It was about 1 m tall, weighed 10-23 kg, and had blue-gray plumage, a big head, a long bill, small useless wings, stout yellow legs, and a tuft of curly feathers high on its rear end.
The bird was discovered by European sailors in 1598, and was extinct by 1680.
Until the mid — 19th century, almost all that was known about the dodo was based on illustrations and written accounts by 17th century mariners, often of questionable accuracy.
Furthermore, only a few fragmentary remains of dodos collected prior to the bird’s extinction exist.
Now, for the first time since its extinction, scientists have produced a 3D atlas of dodo’s skeletal anatomy.
This atlas, published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology , represents the culmination of five years of work on the only two near-complete skeletons of the dodo in existence.
“Our anatomical atlas of the Thirioux skeletons, produced using modern techniques such as 3D laser surface scanning, opens a new window into the ecology of this iconic extinct bird,” said team member Dr. Leon Claessens of Harvard University and co-authors.
The atlas is the first to show accurate relative proportions and to describe several previously unknown bones of the dodo skeleton, including knee caps, ankle and wrist bones.
It opens new pathways for the investigation of the paleobiology and evolution of what may arguably be one of the most famous, yet surprisingly poorly known animals that went extinct in recent human history.
The dodo skeletons described by the team were discovered more than a century ago by an amateur naturalist, Etienne Thirioux, who was a barber by trade.
Thirioux’s exceptional discoveries never received the attention they deserved, and have never been described scientifically before.
The Thirioux skeleton housed in the Mauritius Institute represents the only known complete dodo skeleton, and the only one comprising the bones of a single individual.
The second Thirioux specimen, now housed in the Durban Natural Science Museum, is nearly complete but may have been assembled from the remains of more than one bird.
In contrast, all other known dodo skeletons are incomplete and typically made up from the bones of many different individuals.