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Long-Lost Bird Brought Back To Life In 3-D For First Time Ever

<p><a class="checked-link" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodo#mediaviewer/File:Oxford_Dodo_display.jpg" style="text-decoration: none;">BazzaDaRamble/Oxford University Museum of Natural History/Wikimedia/CC BY 2.0</a></p>

More than three centuries since the last bird strutted along the island of Mauritius, scientists have resurrected the dodo for the first time in exquisitely-detailed 3-D scans.

By inching a laser over a pair of dodo skeletons - one the only known collection of complete bones, the other a partial set - an international team of researchers was able to reconstruct the dodo's ancient bird bod.

The dodo's skull "is so large and its beak so robust, that it is easy to understand that the earliest naturalists thought it was related to vultures and other birds of prey, rather than the pigeon family," University of Amsterdam biodiversity expert Kenneth Rijsdijk said in a statement on Thursday. Rijsdijk and his colleagues presented the scans at a recent meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Berlin.

(Credit: Leon Claessens/Mauritius Museums Council)

After the skeletons were scanned in three dimensions, the dodo could walk again (in a virtual environment, at least). In addition to following the dodos' footsteps, the scientists found other traits by digitally combing over the birds' bones. Considering their hardened beaks, munching on crabs or seeds would have posed little problem. Dodos were peaceable birds, too: Lacking a hardened blade of sternum bone found in other pigeons, the long-lost birds were unlikely to duke it out in dodo-dodo conflict, the researchers believe.

These bones are a stark reminder of the human impact on ecosystems. The dodo's path, after it crossed ways with European sailors, was a short one. In the middle of the 1600s, the dodo was a strange new discovery; 70 years later, the birds were gone.

"The history of the dodo provides an important case study of the effects of human disturbance of the ecosystem, from which there is still much to learn that can inform modern conservation efforts for today's endangered animals," said College of the Holy Cross paleontologist Leon Claessens. If you'd like to look at the dodo's legacy in three dimensions, you're in luck - they're publicly available to view as part of a skeletal database.