STL Science Center

STL Science Center

25 August 2016

Fame by Proxy

Photo of Great Auk sculpture at Zoo Chleby, near Prague
For similar reasons as the Dodo, the Great Auk was and is famous mostly because of its relative "newness" as an extinct species. European sailors interacted and saw more auks than dodos for a more extensive period of time. Due to that extended influence there are more specimens, descriptions, and art pieces that are based directly from the animals themselves; remember the dodo art we know today is based on a single painting for the most part. Additionally, a lot more information exists about the life history and general biology of Pinguinus impennis than does about Raphus cucullata. This is reflected in all of the venues mentioned previously and also in books about the extinction of the Great Auk, their eggs, and ecological discussions. Generally speaking, newly extinct animals, those with sub-fossil remains, are not often as exceedingly venerated in books and pleas for stewardship. The Great Auk is one of the species that is used as a cautionary tale however and its very penguin-like body plan makes it stand out, though not always readily identifiable to the general public. Certainly not as easily identified as a dodo at least.

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