Giant Bunny

It has long been possible tobreed out huge rabbits and it was quite likely that on some island we would runacross a giant bunny.  That is nowaccomplished with the discovery of these fossils.

Obviously they failed to survivecontact with man, but it would have been surprising if they had.

Anyway, it is Easter and this isan appropriate tale for the time

King of Rabbits: Ancient, Gigantic Bunny Discovered

Charles Q. Choi, LiveScienceContributor
Date: 21 March 2011 Time: 03:02 PM ET

A reconstruction of Nuralagus rex in a landscape with a living Europeanrabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus in the foreground for comparison.

CREDIT: Meike Köhler 

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

The fossils of the giant were discovered on the islandof Minorca off the coast of Spain,a fact reflected in the rabbit's scientific name, Nuralagus rex, "theMinorcan king of the rabbits." [Illustrationof giant rabbit]

"I needed four years to recover a good sample of N. rex bonesbecause they were in very hard red stone," paleontologist Josep Quintanaat the Catalan Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona, Spain, told LiveScience."To pull the bones out from the matrix, it was necessary to use somehundreds of liters of acetic acid, a very concentrated vinegar — very hard andpatient work! But it was worthwhile, of course."

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

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

Foot bones of Nuralagus rex, the giant rabbit whose remains werediscovered on the island of Minorca.

"For most of their over 40-million-year history, members of therabbit family have fit well within the size range exhibited by relativelywell-known modern members of the family. Now, discoveries on Minorca have addeda giant to the mix, a 25-pound, short-legged rabbit," said rabbit researcherMary Dawson at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who didnot take part in this study.

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

"I think thatN. 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 relativelysmall eye sockets and internal ear parts. Its senses likely deteriorated forthe same reason it got so large — it did not have predators to worry about. Assuch, 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 animalwas most probably a digger that lived on roots and tubers it unearthed. Itsneighbors included bats, large dormice and giant tortoises.

Quintana proposes that this newfound giant might make a good mascot forthe island. "I would like to use N. rex to lure students andvisitors to Minorca," he said.

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

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