Photo: vvaiting (Flickr)
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. It’s Nuralagus rex!
That’s A Big Bunny
Five million year old rabbit fossils found on the island of Minorca weren’t from a rabbit large enough to jump over buildings, but they were six times the size of today’s rabbits.
At over a foot and a half in height and twenty-six pounds, the super rabbit outweighed not only modern rabbits, but other rabbit relatives like hares and pikas as well.
From Large To Small
Scientists say Nuralagus is a good example of how species trapped on islands can evolve in unusual directions. Sometimes large species become smaller over time. Dwarf elephant fossils have been found on Mediterranean islands, and dwarf mammoths on the Channel Islands.
In other cases, small species like rabbits may become supersized. On Minorca, scientists also found a larger than normal land tortoise and dormouse.
Evolution At Work
Scientists believe the Minorca rabbits might have evolved into such a large species because there were no mammal predators on the island. Without predatory pressure to keep them ready for speedy escapes, Nuralagus rabbits grew larger and less agile. Their short, stiff spines suggest they were basically a couch potato species, walking instead of hopping.
Nuralagus was also different from modern rabbits in that it had a small brain compared to its body size and skimpy eyes. It probably didn’t even have long bunny ears. But Nuralagus did have paws adapted for digging. At twenty-six pounds, it needed lots of food, but scientists have yet to discover giant carrot fossils.