The dodo bird had a high sense of smell, a new study found. Findings revealed that the extinct, flightless bird might not have been as stupid as previously thought.
In fact, its skull analysis revealed it might have been quite smart. The dodo's total brain size is relative to its body was the same as pigeons, its closest living cousins. Based on other studies, pigeons are capable of being trained, which is taken as a sign of moderate intelligence.
Notably, researchers found that dodos had large and segregated olfactory bulbs. This is the brain part responsible for the sense of smell.
The same was found in another extinct relative, the Rodrigues solitaire. The authors theorized that the Rodrigues solitaire and the dodo were ground-dwellers that ate shellfish, small ground-dwelling vertebrates and fruits.
A high sense of smell is unusual for birds whose brainpower is wired to concentrate on their sense of sight. Given such, they need to rely mostly on their sense of smell to look for food, unlike birds that fly who need to focus on sight to spot food while up in the air.
The researchers also found that the dodo's semicircular canals in the inner ear had an unusual curvature. These canals house the organs responsible for balance. Further study is needed to determine the significance of the atypical curve.
Stony Brook University's paleontologist Eugenia Gold said the dodos didn't show a fear of humans when early settlers reached the Mauritius Island in 1500s.
"They had no natural predators on the islands before humans arrived," said Gold.
Since the dodos didn't show any fear, it was probably easy for the seamen to herd them onto the ships as food source. Gold speculated that the birds' willingness to be taken captive led to the popular thinking that dodos were dumb.
"It is rather unfair," added Gold.
The last dodo sighting was in 1662. These flightless, big birds are known to live in Indian Ocean's Mauritius Island.
The dodo is a famous symbol for stupidity in pop culture. Its perceived lack of survival skills is said to have contributed to its quick demise nearly 400 years ago.
The research was published in the journal Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society on Feb. 23.
Photo: Ed Schipul | Flickr