THE PHRASE “dead as a dodo” is proverbial for anything lifeless or extinct.
But now visitors to World Museum Liverpool can get an idea of what this near-mythical creature looked like after a rare dodo skeleton was put on display.
The skeleton is made up of large numbers of bones found in a swamp on the island of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean.
While the dodo has been extinct for more than 300 years, the mounted skeleton itself is believed to have been kept under wraps in the museum’s collection for at least 40 years.
It is now on display for a month as part of the Hidden Treasures series, featuring items rarely seen by the public.
Dr Clem Fisher, the museum’s curator of vertebrate zoology, said: “This is the only mounted skeleton of a dodo anywhere in the world. All others are reconstructions, using goose feathers.
“The skeleton is quite complete although we have recently discovered that the foot bones have been skilfully carved from wood.”
The large, flightless pigeons were about 3ft tall and were decimated by the arrival of sailors in Mauritius, who killed it for food.
The skeleton was put together from the bones of different dodos found in a swamp on the island.
The only part missing is the top of the bird’s skull, or cranium. It was donated to the curator of the then Liverpool Museum in 1866, and has been in the collection ever since.
Dr Fisher said: “It’s a good skeleton, with an important story. The message is the extinction of flightless species is incredibly easy. They are on an island, and as soon as man comes along with his pigs, guns, and rats, they’re gone.
“Everyone knows the dodo from the phrase ‘dead as a dodo’, but very few will have seen an actual skeleton of one.”
Dodos would have weighed around 50 pounds, and had grey plumage, a nine-inch beak with a hooked point, tiny wings and a tuft of curly rear feathers.
According to Dr Fisher, we may not have seen the last of the dodo after all.
“Although the last reliable sighting of a living dodo was in the late 17th century, it may one day be possible to reconstruct the species with the ancient DNA from one of these bones.”