Photo: Wikimedia Commons/John Cummings. A dodo specimen at the NHM, London. Bones used in the study were from different fossil locations on Mauritius

FOR THE FIRST time, researchers have uncovered information on when the dodo laid its eggs and when it moulted.

Palaeobiologists from the University of Cape Town, in collaboration with scientists from the National History Museum (NHM) in London, examined 22 bones from different birds along with weather patterns on Mauritius, where the dodo was once endemic.

The team worked out how bones changed as the dodo aged, and propose that they bred around August after a period of fattening, which corresponds with the fat and thin cycles recorded in many Mauritian vertebrates, both living and extinct.

They further suggest that the rapid growth of the chicks enabled them to reach a robust size, almost adult body size, before summer so that they could better survive the environmental stress of the next summer, which corresponds to the cyclone seasons in the southern hemisphere when resources are limited.

Moulting began around March, with the replacement of the feathers of the wings and the tail first, and by the end of July the birds were fully moulted in time for the next breeding season.

Bone samples of late-stage juveniles reveal rapid rates of growth, which continue until the bird reached sexual maturity. Thereafter, it took several years to achieve skeletal maturity.

Study authors wrote: “Such an extended, slow growth after sexual maturity might have been possible on a small island like Mauritius, where until the arrival of humans, adult birds lacked any natural predators.

“The dodo was variably described as having ‘three or four black quills’ in the place of their wings, and a tail with ‘four or five small curled plumes of a greyish colour’.

“[Individuals] described as having a downy plumage were probably observed just after moult… while the grey or black plumage could correspond to dodo specimens between two moulting periods,” they concluded.

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