STL Science Center

STL Science Center

18 August 2016

No Dodos

Ustad Mansur; Dodo and Indian birds
There are no complete specimens of Raphus cucullatus. Every interpretation, museum or otherwise, is based off of the specimens originally brought back to their locations or written descriptions. The partial dodo shared yesterday is one of the better remaining taxidermy specimens of Raphus cucullatus. The shape we typically see or give to dodos is implied from contemporary accounts and illustrations. Illustrations are more powerful than simple description often as they make a lasting impression. The fat content, we saw Tuesday, of the dodo body has been called into question. Is the pudgy body of the dodo in illustrations an artifact of dense feathering or postmortem bloating? Dutch accounts noted that the bird was easy to chew but dry and tough, with a pleasant flavor and ample meat. There is little mention of a great deal of fat, a single 1631 journal entry as far as I have found, being cut from the animal prior to cooking. This is explained by the idea that during the wet season when foods were abundant dodos may have gorged themselves in order to build a fat reserve to survive the dry season's lack of food. Sailing ships traveling ahead of the wet season may have been quickly pushed along, missing the island or not requiring the stop because of their quick travel. At the end of the wet season stopping at Mauritius may have been beneficial as a respite from storms and to stock up on provisions. Whether these scenarios are true or not, the abundant illustrations showing fattened dodos were probably the result of seeing these animals as they prepared to survive times with little to no food.

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