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Aldabra rail: The bird that came back from the dead by evolving twice




Name: Aldabra rail (Dryolimnas cuvieri aldabranus)

Where it lives: Aldabra — a coral atoll off the southeast coast of Africa

What it eats: Insects

Why it's awesome: Lying off the southeast coast of Africa, north of Madagascar, the coral limestone islands of the Aldabra atoll are home to a humble yet astonishing bird that has evolved to be flightless twice. 

The Aldabra rail is rather unremarkable at first glance. It's about the size of a chicken, with a flecked gray back, a rusty red head and chest and a white throat. It is a subspecies of the white-throated rail (Dryolimnas cuvieri) and is the only living flightless bird in the Indian Ocean, thanks to human-driven extinction of birds like the dodo (Raphus cucullatus).

A 2019 study published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society examined the fossil record of rails in Aldabra and found evidence of a flightless rail on the atoll from before it was submerged beneath the waves 136,000 years ago. This event caused "an almost complete turn over in the fauna," lead author Julian Hume, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum, London, said in a statement at the time. 

This inundation, which lasted until around 118,000 years ago, resulted in the extinction of the flightless rail subspecies, but then something remarkable happened.