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The Bunny King

by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell on May 7, 2011
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Physorg: “Nuralagus rex: Giant extinct rabbit that didn't hopOnce upon a time a rabbit king was buried on Minorca . . .

A giant bunny that did not hop is showing up in children’s periodicals, prompting questions from our readers. The Nuralagus rex fossil, whose name means “rabbit king,” was recently found on the Mediterranean island of Minorca. It is six times the size of a modern European rabbit and ten times the size of extinct mainland rabbits. Alleged to have lived three to five million years ago, this king-sized rabbit is believed to have grown big on its isolated island home because of a lack of predators.

Because the spine was short and stiff instead of long and springy, researchers believe this rabbit “lost its ability to hop.” Its skull openings for eyes and ears were small, so they say that “because of lack of predators to worry about, Nuralagus rex lost visual and hearing acuity.”

Remarking on the “lost” features of the “bunny king,” one paleontologist noted, “As evolution has shown repeatedly, strange things happen on islands. Quintana and colleagues dramatically demonstrate that these floppy-eared critters are not as biologically conserved as many of us have thought.”

Or are they? The bunny was still a bunny. Its unique features may have made it less hardy in some other environments, but there is no reason to believe it devolved from better-endowed ancestors because it no longer needed to hop, see, and hear. King rabbit of Minorca didn’t lose traits because he didn’t need them. But he was a dandy example of natural selection in action because he survived well without them!


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