Spanish island yields giant rabbit fossil

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European researchers say they’ve unearthed the fossil skeleton of a giant rabbit on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Minorca, a popular tourist destination. 

A newly found species of rabbit, Nuralagus rex, weighed in at over 26.4 pounds and lived three to five million years ago on the small island of Minorca [Credit: Josep Quintana.]

The giant rabbit, dubbed Nuralagus rex, weighed 26.4 pounds, about six times the size of the living European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, a release by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology said Monday. 

The outsized rabbit lived between 3 million and 5 million years ago, researchers said. A lack of mainland predators on the island allowed it to reach a giant size. 

The rabbit paid a price for its size, researchers said, and lost the ability to hop. 

The long springy spine of a mainland rabbit is lost in N. rex, replaced by a short, stiff spine that would make hopping difficult. 

“I think that N. rex would be a rather clumsy rabbit walking,” Josep Quintana from the Institut Catalade Paleontologia said. “Imagine a beaver out of water.” 

The rabbit was most likely a digger, Quintana said, searching for roots and tubers to eat. 

“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,” Mary Dawson, a rabbit researcher at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, said. “Now discoveries on Minorca have added a giant to the mix, a 25 pound, short-legged rabbit.” 

Source: UPI [March 21, 2011]

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