About a month ago, on the Spanish island of Minorca, a fossil of a prehistoric giant rabbit was unearthed by a team of paleontologists from the Institut Catala de Palentologia of Barcelona. According to Discovery news, the giant rabbit species, (Nuralagus rex) – dubbed as the Minorcan King of Rabbits, measures six times larger than the average size of today’s modern rabbits.
News regarding the discovery of the fossil of the giant rabbit species was first released by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) on a press release dated March 21, 2011 entitled “Giant Extinct Rabbit was the King of Minorca.”
The giant rabbit species, officially known as the Nuralagus rex, weighs around 12 kg (26.4 lbs) and is a mainland cousin of the extinct Alilepus sp. The leader of the research team Dr. Josep Quintana described the Nuralagus rex as a “very robust and peculiar rabbit.”
Quintana also told Discovery News that the newly discovered giant rabbit species was “a very calm and peaceful animal that moved with slow and powerful movements.” Expert paleontologists from the Institut estimated that the giant rabbit species lived approximately around 3-5 million years ago.
Meanwhile, scientists believe that the Nuralagus rex had reached such enormous size due to the so-called “island effect.”
The island effect has been described as a rare phenomenon in which small creatures such as the rabbit, grows abnormally because of the lack of predators. While large animals may become smaller as with the case of the discovery of tiny elephants in some other islands.
A downside perhaps to the Nuralagus rex’s enormous size is the fact that it had somehow lost its ability to hop – an ability which is commonly associated to rabbits.
Compared to the modern-day rabbit, the Nuralagus rex had a short and stiff spine which makes movement particularly hopping difficult. Likewise, due again to the lack of predators on the island of Minorca, the Nuralagus rex had also impaired its visual and hearing abilities. Unlike the modern-day rabbit, the Nuralagus rex had relatively smaller ears and eyes.
Quintana suggest that the Nuralagus rex be used as a mascot to attract visitors to the island.
The discovery of the Nuralagus rex, the Minorcan king of rabbits, is perhaps the most notable discovery of a rabbit species since the discovery of stripped rabbit species in 1998 in the Annamite Mountains of Laos and Vietnam.