Tuesday, October 25, 2011

THE MINORCAN KING OF RABBITS

Today I am going to tell you about a real rabbit whose scientific name is Nuralagus rex, and I am sad to say that this rabbit is now EXTINCT.  But maybe that's okay, because Nuralagus rex was the biggest rabbit ever to live -- at least that we know about -- and I think it might be scary to run into one.

This picture shows how big N. rex was
compared to a European rabbit now.
Most people first heard about N. rex this past March, when a study was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.  This animal lived about 3 to 5 million years ago on the island of Minorca, which is in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Spain.  We don't know how these giant bunnies got to Minorca, but it turns out that the island is a popular tourist spot for Europeans because it has really pretty beaches.  So I'm thinking that maybe the N. rex rabbits went there on vacation and liked it so much that they just decided to stay.

Minorca is that island way over on the east,
where the red dot is.

Anyway, these rabbits weighed about 26 pounds each, which is 6 times the size of living European rabbits.  The reason why they got so humongous is because of something called the "island rule."  And what this rule says is that big mammals living on an island may get smaller because of the lack of food, and small mammals may get larger because there are no predators to eat them.  So the N. rex rabbits probably started out the same size as the rabbits on the mainland, and then gradually, during thousands of years of happy island life, they got bigger and bigger, until they were "king-sized" rabbits.


And another thing that happened, since Minorcan king rabbits didn't have to worry about predators, was that their spines got shorter and less flexible, so they couldn't hop anymore.  Which means that they probably just waddled around, sort of like a beaver on land.  And besides that, their eyes and ears got smaller, because they didn't need them so much to listen and watch for predators.  N. rex had curved claws, so it is likely that they dug up lots of roots and tubers to eat.

One of the beautiful Minorcan beaches
where the giant rabbits used to hang out.

The man who found all these N. rex bones was a paleontologist named Josep Quintana, from the Catalan Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona.  It took him about four years to get the bones out of the hard red stone where they were.   And the way he got them out was by using many gallons of acetic acid, which is like a very concentrated vinegar.  It was hard work, and it took a lot of patience, but Mr. Quintana said it was totally worth it.  And I think that the best part of all was that Mr. Quintana published his findings during the Year of the Rabbit.

3 comments:

  1. My goodness, I never heard of these big rabbits before! I always think of rabbits in terms of the little small fluffy kind; this topic was something else. Oh...I have lots of rabbits around here and a few years ago when Chickie, my Chihuahua was still alive, she and a rabbit got into a fight and the rabbit won!! I give lots of credit to the guy who found these bones and then took so long getting the bones out of stones. I don't have that kind of patience. Thanks for teaching me something new...again.
    Love, AP

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  2. Dear Aunt Patty,
    I never heard of these giant rabbits before either, but I Googled "extinct rabbits," and that's how I found out about them. These rabbits were even bigger than I am, so I think they would be scary, and I'm glad they are not around anymore!
    Love, Piper

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