Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Dodo Bird

Well, as you can see, the first month of the new year is already coming to a close. Can you believe it? It seems like it just got here! You know what's interesting, I've mainly been using this website for countdowns to holidays, movie updates, and an education article written by either myself or my coauthor and I recently realized that I haven't given much time to actually explain what my family and I have been up to. Frankly, the reason for that is that there wasn't really much to say because there wasn't much going on! So today, I'd like to give a little update about yours truly before we get to today's “usuals”:

Great things are about to get started concerning the church my family goes to. We recently started Sunday School for grades 7-12 (taught by my Dad), and we're going to be producing the play “The King on a Cross” once again for Easter! I can't wait! The only problem is, that most of the people who've signed up so far are female (that leaves three guys, including my dad and I). We're going to definitely need some more men to be in this production!

Now let's get moving along with our “Days Till” section.

Days Till
It is: 3 days till Groundhog Day
It is: 13 days till Abraham Lincoln's Birthday
It is: 15 days till Valentine's Day.

As you can see above, Groundhog Day is only three days away! Can you believe it? It's going to be time for the legendary groundhog, known as Punxsutawney Phil to come out and determine how long it's going to be till winter is finally over! As everyone knows, if the groundhog sees his shadow, then it's six more weeks of winter. But if he doesn't . . . spring is on its way!

Of course, this rodent can't really tell us when winter's going to end, but it's all great fun to see what the Phil the groundhog has to “say”. I personally think that it's going to be a long winter. Come back next week to see what the results are!

In the Spotlight
OK, normally I use this section to talk about updates for the movie's I've been following. But this week, something else really cool is happening! Bill Nye – the host of the famous children's show “Bill Nye The Science Guy” and anti-creationist – is going head-to-head with president of the creation-based Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham on a live debate over the creation/evolution controversy! I'm really excited about this! This event can be seen live on on February 4, 2014.

Of course, many atheists aren't too happy about this debate; some claim that it's a waste of time giving creationism this much attention. But my theory is that they really just don't want to admit that really, evolution holds no water whatsoever. (Please don't get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against Bill Nye and other atheists other than their disbelief in God and creation). I can't wait to see how this debate goes!

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
Dodo birds – despite having been extinct since 1681 – are quite famous among the general public – they're known as being incredibly obese, turkey-like birds with tiny brains and they are often thought of as clumsy; many believe that dodos were so dimwitted, that they weren't smart enough to survive, and therefore represent a perfect example of a poorly evolved creature. But how much of this is true? As with any famous thing, speculation of a time can turn into common knowledge and be considered fact as time goes on, without many people actually stopping to see if the common knowledge is actually true. In fact, new studies of the dodo bird have been recently conducted and have revealed many things about these extinct creatures that we never knew before. Dodos are actually interesting and amazing birds to learn about; in today's article, I intend to reveal the truth about this commonly misunderstood creature known as the dodo bird, and you will learn that, instead of being a poorly evolved dimwit, this creature is actually a beautiful example of God's amazing handiwork when He created animals.

In this photo, we see a dodo skeleton (left) next to an accurate model of the dodo bird.
Discovered in 1507 by the Portuguese, Raphus cucullatus, or dodo bird is a large flightless relative of the modern pigeon and dove and lived on the island of Mauritius, off the coast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. The island itself was the perfect home for the creatures – at around 809 square miles across, Mauritius. The dodo's ancestors must have reached the island via flight, as they're poor swimmers, and over the years, natural selection made them flightless. They didn't need the power of flight! In fact, when the dodo's ancestors arrived on Mauritius, there were no predators, so the animal flourished.
The island of Mauritius lies between Madagascar and Australia.
The dodo bird stood around three feet tall and weighed, on average, around 22 pounds in the wild. Even though it looked a great deal like a turkey, the two share no relation whatsoever. It was covered in mostly gray plumage and is known for its characteristic large beak and the plume of feathers on its short tail. The reason we know a good bit about the dodo bird's appearance is thanks to early settlers to the island who actually went to Mauritius after discovering the creatures; these people often wrote down or drew (or painted) descriptions of the birds.

This dodo portrait is from the 17th century.
One thing we can't be very sure about is the behavior of the dodo, which is a lot harder to figure out than its appearance. Fortunately, those early settlers also wrote down descriptions of their behavior, so we can know a little. Based old descriptions, dodo birds are believed to have liked living in woods in the drier, coastal areas of south and western Mauritius. When settlers first arrived to the island, Mauritius was covered in forest, perfect for dodo birds and countless other animals that made their homes here. Dodo birds were mainly fruitivores, eating fruit that had fallen out of trees. But they also liked eating bulbs, seeds, nuts and roots. Some have even made the suggestion that they occasionally went for crabs and shellfish. Lacking teeth to chew up their food, dodo birds employed a trick used by many modern bird species: they swallowed stones. These stones – known as gizzard stones – are consumed by many species of birds to grind up the food in their guts.
These are gizzard stones (or gastroliths) from a plesiosaur, a dinosaur-like marine reptile.
It is thought that dodo birds laid only one egg at a time and nested on the ground, since there were no predators on Mauritius, and this chick was cared for by either one or both parents, just like their modern relatives.
A trio of dodo birds feeds in this picture.
The dodo bird was an incredible creature and would have been fascinating for modern scientists to study, but unfortunately, early settlers didn't seem to think so. Instead, they had another intention for the birds. Dodo birds, not knowing fear from predators, were not scared of humans when they came close, and considering the settlers were probably hungry from being out at sea for so long, so what do you think they did? That's right! They began killing the dodo birds en mass. The only weapon the birds had was their sharp beaks, but this wasn't enough to keep them from getting killed. Now the killing and slaughtering of these animals wasn't because of their delicious, exotic taste; in fact, they were actually considered quite bitter in taste! The reason why they were killed was probably because the birds were so easy to catch and because the sailors must have longed for meat, something they didn't have readily in the days before refrigerators and freezers.

This picture portrays early settlers capturing and killing various animals on Mauritius: Dodo birds (inaccurately portrayed as penguin-like) are in the middle image on the left.
And as if this wasn't enough, settlers brought animals to Mauritius with them from Europe, including pigs, dogs, cats, rats and monkeys, and these animals either found the eggs of the dodos good for food, and they competed for food resources. And as if this wasn't bad enough, humans began to civilize the island; they cut down trees and destroyed the dodo's prime habitat. Pretty soon, after rapidly losing their numbers due to human predation, their nests due to non-native animals, and their habitats, the dodos . . . well, they went “the way of the dodos”; they become “dead as dodos”; in other words, they become extinct. Now granted, a few dodos were transported from the island and into zoos in America and in Europe, but people didn't try to breed the creatures in captivity. In no more than 174 years after the species discovery, the last dodo was gone.

Animals not native to Mauritius that were introduced by the early settlers often destroyed the dodos' nests and eggs.
Soon after their extinction, myths about dodo birds came about. So how did the myth of the obese dodo come about? Well, this is to many artists who depicted them. Many artists, who had never even seen a real, living dodo in the wild, depicted them as overweight birds – birds that were so fat, not only could they not fly, but they couldn't even run! Perhaps these artists were also inspired by badly stuffed dodo specimens.
Dodo birds were often incorrectly portrayed as fat, ungainly and dimwitted birds by later artists. In this portrait, a man is painting his dodo bird model.
This wasn't changed until recent study on dodo specimens. Scientists decided to try and find out the weight estimate for the birds by closely examining the creature's bones. Guess what they found out? They soon learned that the dodo bird's skeleton would have in fact, not been able to even lift the body off the ground if it was as large as was commonly depicted. The bird actually weighed around 22 pounds in the wild. Though it is true that wild dodos underwent weight changes during Mauritius' wet and dry seasons, the changes in the birds' weight was never as extreme as the ones that were commonly depicted. And that's not all: it was recently discovered that only later artists depicted fat dodos; dodos depicted in earlier drawings, sketches and paintings (some of which not even published), portrayed much slimmer birds. Also, accounts from people who actually saw the dodos state that the birds were plenty capable of running! So much for those later artists! Compare the two:
This more accurate dodo bird was sketched by an earlier artist.
This grossly fat dodo bird was painted by later artists.
The myth of the dimwitted dodo bird must also be dispelled. Instead of being too dumb to run away from those early settlers, the dodos actually lacked fear of them because they hadn't known predators since they arrived on the island! So really, the birds were just too trusting of the settlers.

Here is a clip from one of my favorite television series Primeval, featuring a flock of dodo birds, which accurately portrays them as being relatively slim and able to run. Please enjoy:

The dodo bird was incorrectly depicted as a grossly overweight, greedy, brainless, lazy and slow animal for 350 years until new studies made the truth come into light. These birds, just like all the other creatures God created, were beautifully designed to thrive in their environment as He intended. So now that we know the truth, should we call this animal the “psuedo-dodo bird”?

This model correctly portrays the dodo bird as being much slimmer than commonly believed just as it was in life.
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