Galleons, if you know me at all, you know of my… er… aversion to rabbits. And while I could natter on for many, many paragraphs about the numerous reasons those supposedly “adorable” bunnies are actually hellspawn, I think the following image will evoke the proper fear response in you all:
But reiterating my stance on those lagomorphic beastlings isn’t my purpose today. Well… actually it is, but we’re going to do so with a generous helping of science news.
It’s time to travel to the world of paleontology (the profession that all children of my generation, the generation of Jurassic Park, at one point aspired to), where the fossil of the largest rabbit ever discovered has been unearthed on the island of Minorca.
The 26 pound monstrosity lived three to five million years ago and has been christened Nuralagus rex.
And while our colossal bunny is six times larger than today’s wild European rabbit, this type of gigantism is one of those examples of the strange turns evolution can take on islands. If you recall, during Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle, he studied the endemic species (species are are unique to a particular geographic location, such as an island) of the Galápagos Islands. The very fact that these species had genetic differences from island to island (such as differing shapes of tortoise shells and differences in mockingbirds) helped solidify Darwin’s theory of natural selection, proving animals evolutionarily adapted to their specific environments.
In a closed environment (such as an island), natural selection can lead to striking differences between a mainland species and its island counterpart. The restricted nature of the island’s ecosystem causes genetic variations not seen in other parts of the world.
This was the case with Nuralagus rex. As no plausible predators have been found among fossils from the same time period, the massive rabbits could have evolved to larger and larger sizes without needing to maintain speed and agility.
Anyway, that’s enough of this horror story for now. I’m making a mental note to avoid islands. In my mind, they all now look something like this: