Giant fossil rabbit discovery in Spain

This video says about itself:

24 September 2015

“”Nuralagus rex””, occasionally called the “Minorcan giant lagomorph“, is an extinct rabbit that lived in the island of Minorca from the Messinian until around the middle of the Pliocene, when it became extinct when Majorca and Minorca were united as one island, letting the goat-like ungulate “Myotragus balearicus” colonize “Nuralagus”‘s habitat.

“Nuralagus rex” was very different from modern rabbits. With a height of half a meter and an estimated weight of 12 kilograms, the species differed in size from all other noted fossils, and currently existing leporids. “Nuralagus rex” was six times the weight of the extant European rabbit and could weigh up to 23 kilograms It had a comparatively small skull and small sensory receptors. The small eyes and ears of this species are unlike those of modern rabbits. “Nuralagus rex” had a short stiff spine which resulted in low mobility and inability to jump. Due to the absence of predators on Minorca, this rabbit experienced what has been called the “island rule”. This rule states that big animals living on an island with no predators tend to evolve smaller and small animals living with no predators tend to evolve larger.

“Nuralagus rex” entered land constituting Minorca during the Messinian Salinity Crisis 5.3 million years ago. During this event, the desiccation of the Mediterranean Sea connected the island to mainland Spain, allow “Nuralagus”’ ancestor to colonize the area. The subsequent Zanclean flood then led to the Mediterranean’s return to its original sea levels, isolating the ancestor of “Nuralagus” on Minorca. Nuralagus’ divergence from its ancestor corresponds to the general increase in leporid diversity found in the Pliocene. Although the time of its extinction is uncertain, it possibly coincided with the general decrease in leporid diversity found in the Holocene.

From LiveScience:

King of Rabbits: Ancient, Gigantic Bunny Discovered

Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience Contributor

Date: 21 March 2011 Time: 03:02 PM ET

Just in time for Easter, the skeleton of a giant rabbit has been discovered, one that was once about six times the size of today’s bunnies.

The fossils of the giant were discovered on the island of Minorca off the coast of Spain, a fact reflected in the rabbit‘s scientific name, Nuralagus rex, “the Minorcan king of the rabbits.”

“I needed four years to recover a good sample of N. rex bones because they were in very hard red stone,” paleontologist Josep Quintana at the Catalan Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona, Spain, told LiveScience. “To pull the bones out from the matrix, it was necessary to use some hundreds of liters of acetic acid, a very concentrated vinegar — very hard and patient work! But it was worthwhile, of course.”

When the bunny lived approximately 3 million to 5 million years ago, it weighed about 26 pounds (12 kilograms), about six times the size of the living European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). [Fossils of Oldest Rabbit Relative Found]

The fact that it got so big on Minorca seems to follow the so-called “island rule.” On islands, big animals often get smaller, due to limited food, while small animals often get bigger, due to lack of predators.

“For most of their over 40-million-year history, members of the rabbit family have fit well within the size range exhibited by relatively well-known modern members of the family. Now, discoveries on Minorca have added a giant to the mix, a 25-pound, short-legged rabbit,” said rabbit researcher Mary Dawson at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who did not take part in this study.

As big as it was, N. rex might have been easy prey today — it lost the ability to hop. The long, springy spine of a typical modern rabbit was lost in N. rex, replaced by a short, stiff spine that would make leaping difficult.

“I think that N. rex would be a rather clumsy rabbit walking — imagine a beaver out of water,” Quintana said.

The giant probably also had poor hearing and vision, with relatively small eye sockets and internal ear parts. Its senses likely deteriorated for the same reason it got so large — it did not have predators to worry about. As such, it probably lacked another key trait often associated with rabbits — long ears. The bunny likely sported relatively small ears for its size.

Based on the rabbit’s curved claws, the researchers suspect the animal was most probably a digger that lived on roots and tubers it unearthed. Its neighbors included bats, large dormice and giant tortoises.

Quintana proposes that this newfound giant might make a good mascot for the island. “I would like to use N. rex to lure students and visitors to Minorca,” he said.

The scientists detailed their findings online today (March 21) in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

See also here.

It’s actually the European hare, or brown hare, that holds the impressive credential of being the original Easter Bunny: here.

April 2011: Populations of brown hares are holding up in the Braydon Forest area of North Wiltshire, a survey of landowners by the Wiltshire wildlife trust reveals. Sixty seven per cent of those taking part in the survey reported seeing hares on their land: here.

One of South Africa’s most endangered mammals, the Riverine Rabbit will again receive a helping hand from Lindt Master Chocolatiers when it donates a percentage of sales from their Lindt Gold Easter Bunnies to the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Riverine Rabbit Programme 2012: here.

From miniature elephants to monster mice, and even Hobbit-sized humans, size changes in island animals are well-known to science. Biologists have long believed that large animals evolving on islands tend to get smaller, while small animals tend to get bigger, a generalization they call “the island rule”: here.

5 thoughts on “Giant fossil rabbit discovery in Spain

  1. wow! I would love to see these Giant fossil rabbit discovery in Spain! I hope there are also some awesome fossils here in our local museums.


  2. Pingback: British mammals, new research | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: March hares, white storks | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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