Giant bunnies reigned over the Mediterranean island of Minorca 3 million years ago

If you suddenly found yourself on the Balearic island of Minorca three-to-five million years ago, you'd likely encounter Nuralagus rex, a 26-pound, short-eared rabbit that's six times larger than today's European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus ).

The discovery of this big bunny was detailed in a recent study led by Dr. Josep Quintana of Spain's Institut Català de Paleontologia. According to Quintana, the predator-less island ecosystem allowed Nuralagus rex to grow to enormous sizes and lose its large, sensitive ears and eyes (no bunny ears for Nuralagus). Notes Physorg:

The rabbit king lived approximately 3-5 million years ago and may be one of the oldest known cases of the "island rule" in mammals. Simply put, the island rule states that when on islands, big animals will get smaller and small animals will get bigger. This size change on islands may be due to reduced quantities of food or lack of mainland predators [...] In the case of N. rex, the lack of predators allowed this rabbit to reach a giant size. Quintana and colleagues found that this giant rabbit had also lost its 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 jumping difficult. "I think that N. rex would be a rather clumsy rabbit walking. Imagine a beaver out of water," said Quintana.

Quintana's teams findings were published this month in the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. For more modern weird rabbit islands, see Okunoshima Island in Japan and the Scottish island of Canna.

[Illustration via SVP]