An incredibly rare skeleton of the extinct dodo bird is slated to go up for auction tomorrow and it could bring in big bucks, perhaps surpassing $750,000.
Auction house Christie's is offering the near-complete skeleton of the bird that was once native to Mauritius, an island nation east of Madagascar. The flightless bird, a distant relative to the modern pigeon, became extinct less than a century after its discovery by Dutch explorers.
"The dodo is now long extinct. Our access to it is through the reports of seventeenth-century explorers, the art they produced and inspired, and the bones that have come to us from Mauritius," the auction house wrote in the lot essay. "Of its diet, habit and call we know almost nothing, and yet it remains one of the most iconic birds ever to have lived."
"The near-complete composite skeleton from fossil remains from Mare-aux-Songes and rare bones found by Etienne Thirioux, a Mauritian naturalist active around the turn of the 19th century," the lot description added.
The skeleton up for sale was assembled by French naturalist Paul Carié, whose family had owned it since the 19th century, the auction house added.
Bidding starts at $500,000 on May 24 11 a.m. local time and has a pre-sale range between $508,400 and $762,600.
It's commonly thought that dodo birds were dimwitted or ignorant, but a 2016 study suggests that the species, which had no natural predators, was actually fairly intelligent.
"It's [brain size] not impressively large or impressively small—it's exactly the size you would predict it to be for its body size," the study's lead author, Eugenia Gold, said at the time. "So if you take brain size as a proxy for intelligence, dodos probably had a similar intelligence level to pigeons. Of course, there's more to intelligence than just overall brain size, but this gives us a basic measure."
Although it went extinct in 1681, the dodo was a formidable bird, reaching more than 3 feet in height and weighing between 22 and 40 pounds.
However, National Geographic notes that a complete description of its appearance is "difficult to determine" because no complete specimens exist. "Most scientists believe the dodo was grey or brown with a grey head and yellowish legs," National Geographic wrote.
It also had a 9-inch beak, which was presumably used for defense and to help it eat fruits, though scientists are not certain of its diet.