It is believed that the dodo bird became extinct by the late 17th century and, since it has been gone for hundreds of years, much about the flightless bird remains unknown.

With the dawn of 3D laser scanning technology, however, scientists are now able to thoroughly examine the skeletons of the dodo, providing insights on the anatomy and lifestyle of the bird and unraveling some of its mysteries.

In a bid to learn more about the extinct bird, vertebrate paleontologist Leon Claessens from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and colleagues examined the only existing complete skeleton of the dodo housed at the Natural History Museum in Port Louis, Mauritius. The skeleton was found by Etienne Thirioux, a barber and amateur naturalist, near Le Pouce Mountain in Mauritius between 1899 and 1917.

The researchers used a laser scanner to come up with a three-dimensional digital model of the bird. They also scanned a partially composite skeleton that Thirioux also created. The second skeleton is housed at the Durban Museum of Natural Science in South Africa and is made up of many bones that belonged to a single bird.

Claessens said that the 3D laser surface scans that they have made of Thirioux's dodo skeletons allowed them to reconstruct how the bird moved about and lived. The dodo is a type of large pigeon that stood about three feet tall and was endemic to the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean before it was totally wiped out after the arrival of humans, who brought along with them rats, dogs, pigs and other animals that hunted the birds and their eggs.

The researchers modeled the body mass of the bird and found that the dodo was not as excessively chubby as it has often been depicted. The bones in the skull of the bird also suggest that the bird likely ate things with hard shells such as shellfish and seeds. The dodo also lacked a breastbone known as keel, which means that the bird was not into fighting.

"Being able to examine the skeleton of a single, individual dodo, which is not made up from as many individual birds as there are bones, as is the case in all those other composite skeletons, truly allows us to appreciate the way the dodo looked and see how tall or rotund it really was," said study co-author Juilan Hume from the Natural History Museum UK.

The findings were presented at the 74th Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Berlin, Germany on Nov. 7.

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