the Nuralagus is the biggest rabbit on record
Nuralagus Scientific Classification
Nuralagus Conservation Status
Nuralagus is a genus of giant rabbits that lived between 3 to 5 million years ago. The Nuralagus rex is the only member of this genus identified so far. The giant rabbit is considered the largest rabbit ever discovered. This giant rabbit was several times bigger than present-day rabbits, and scientists think the reason it was so massive is that it lived on an island where food was abundant, and predators were non-existent.
Description & Size
Nuralagus is an extinct genus of large rabbits that lived during the Pliocene epoch. Scientists think this creature is the biggest member of the order Lagomorpha to have ever lived (the order includes both living and extinct species of rabbits, hares, and pikas). The only member of this species that have been found so far is the Nuralagus rex. The genus name translates as Minorcan King of the rabbits, while the specific name “rex” is a sly reference to the massive (but obviously unrelated giant carnivore dinosaur, the Tyrannosaurus rex)
Standing at a height of about half a meter and an estimated weight of 12 kg (26 lb), this giant rabbit would have been about 6 times the weight of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). In terms of size, the Flemish Giant rabbit is the only rabbit species that comes close to the Nuralagus.
Size is not the only thing that sets this prehistoric rabbit apart from present-day bunnies. It also evolved to have a slightly different appearance. Nuralagus had a comparatively small skull. Its sensory receptors, such as the ears and eyes, were small too. This suggests that this rabbit had a reduced sense of hearing and poor eyesight, a feature common in animals that evolved in areas where they didn’t have to bother about predators.
Nuralagus had a short and stiff spine. As a result, this rabbit would have been unable to hop like present-day leporids. The fore and hind limbs of this rabbit were splayed. This arrangement helped to spread its massive weight over a wide area for support. The way the bones of the limbs articulated showed that the rabbit’s entire forefoot would have made contact with the ground instead of just the tips of the toes like other rabbits.
Diet – What Did Nuralagus Eat?
The Minorcan giant rabbit was an herbivore. Scientists are unsure of the Nuralagus’ exact diet. However, the spread of the rabbit’s feet, curved fingers, and robust arms indicate that it was a digger. Therefore, the rabbit most likely dug for underground foods and plant roots.
Habitat – When and Where It Lived
Nuralagus lived on an island in the Western Mediterranean during the Pliocene epoch. The giant rabbit probably got to the island about 5 million years ago during an event known as the Messinian Salinity Crisis. Extremely low sea levels allowed the ancestors of this rabbit to get on the island from their native Iberian Peninsula. They became isolated on the island during the great Zanclean flood 5.3 million years ago. There were only a few mammalian species stranded on the island. This includes the Muscardinus cyclopeus, an extinct giant dormouse species, Solitudo gymnesica (a giant tortoise), some snakes, gekkonid lizards, and frogs.
Scientists think its massive massive size is ultimately tied to the habitat where they evolved. This was an example of the “island rule” at play. The rule suggests that mammals restricted to an Island for millions of years will evolve into a different size. Typically, big animals are likely to become smaller, while smaller animals are likely to grow bigger. This is typically due to the availability of food on the island and the absence of predators.
Threats and Predators
Based on the fossils recovered from the island so far, scientists believe there were no large predators on Minorca Island during the time Nuralagus lived there. The biggest predators found so far are barn owls, and they were not large enough to prey on the giant rabbit. The low mobility and reduced senses of this giant rabbit also suggest that it did not have to run or detect predators.
Discoveries and Fossils – Where Nuralagus Was Found
Fossils of the only Nuralagus species found so far were found in fissure-fill deposits in the Northwest section of Minorca island. Paleontologists found this fossil in red-limestone rocks that date back to the Pliocene. The first description of the genus was published in 1981. However, the first complete description was published in 2011. The bones recovered from the deposit included the front half of the rabbit’s skull and several postcranial bones.
Extinction – When Did Nuralagus Die Out?
Nuralagus probably went extinct about 2.5 million years ago towards the end of the Pliocene Epoch or the beginning of the Pleistocene. At the time, the Island of Menorca, where they lived, became connected with another Island called Mallorca as a single island as a result of the Quaternary glaciation. This allowed new mammalian species that lived on Mallorca to migrate into Menorca and colonize the island. Herbivorous species like the goat antelope (Myotragus), a dormouse (Hypnomys), and a shrew (Nesiotes) competed with the Menorca Rabbit for the same habitat and eventually pushed it to extinction.
Similar Animals to The Nuralagus
Similar animals to the Nuralagus include:
- Pentalagus furnessi: The Armami rabbit or Ryukyu rabbit is a dark-furred rabbit found on two small islands in Japan. Being an island species, this rabbit evolved to have similar traits as the Nuralagus, such as a small head and reduced senses.
- Flemish Giant rabbit: This is the largest domestic rabbit breed in the world. The size of this rabbit comes close to that of the Nuralagus.
- European rabbit: The Oryctolagus cuniculus is a living relative of the giant Minorcan rabbit. It is significantly smaller (up to 6 times smaller than the Nuralagus.
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Nuralagus FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
When was Nuralagus Alive?
The Nuralagus lived between 5 to 3 million years ago. It lived exclusively on the Island of Menorca from the Messinian epoch until the end of the Pliocene.
How Big was Nuralagus?
The Nuralagus rex stood at a height of about half a meter and weighed up to 12 kg (26 lb). Scientists consider this giant rabbit the largest lagomorph on record.
Why Did the Nuralagus Go Extinct?
The Nuralagus most likely went extinct at the end of the Pliocene epoch due to the Quaternary glaciation. The event connected the two neighboring islands of Menorca and Mallorca. This allowed the invasion of new species that competed with the giant rabbit for food and habitat, leading to its extinction
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- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuralagus
- National Geographic, Available here: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/night-of-the-nuralagus-rex
- Prehistoric Fauna, Available here: https://prehistoric-fauna.com/Nuralagus-rex
- The Guardian, Available here: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/oct/23/nuralagus-rex-new-to-nature
- Thought Co., Available here: https://www.thoughtco.com/nuralagus-minorcan-hare-1093112