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The Raphidae is a clade of extinct flightless birds now known to include just two species: the Rodrigues solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria; also, Rodriquez solitaire) and the dodo (Raphus cucullatus).  The Réunion solitaire (previously Raphus solitarius), historically considered a third extinct bird in the family Raphidae, is now Threskiornis solitarius, in the ibis family Threskiornithidae (Wikipedia 3 September 2014). 

The raphids inhabited the Mascarene Islands of Mauritius (dodo) and Rodrigues (Rodrigues solitaire), becoming extinct as a consequence of hunting and the introduction of non-native predators of the birds and their eggs when human colonized the islands in the 17th century.  The dodo is commonly cited as going extinct in 1662, the date of its last described sighting, but some possible sightings were made as late as 1688.  The Rodrigues solitaire was certainly extinct by 1778 (Wikipedia 3 September 2014; BirdLife International 2012).

These birds reached an impressive size and are cited as an example of Foster's rule of island biogeography, which posits that small animals colonizing islands tend to grow exceptionally large compared to mainland relatives as a result of isolation from predators (Whittaker 1998; Wikipedia 31 August 2014; MacArthur and Wilson 1967).  Their gigantism, evolution of flightlessness, and other morphological changes that occurred as a result of island colonization has long confounded their taxonomic placement and they have been classified with many bird families, including the ratites and raptors.  Recent genetic analysis using mitochondrial and nuclear DNA samples supports the sister relationship between the dodo and the solitaire and definitively places them within the dove/pigeon family Columbidae (Shapiro et al. 2002; Pereira et al. 2007).


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© Dana Campbell

Supplier: Dana Campbell

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