and can be divided into two families, the Leporidae (hares and rabbits), and the Ochotonidae (pikas).
Fossils previously found on the island indicate that the creature could have weighed up to 23 kg (50 lbs). The earliest fossil lagomorphs, however, come from eastern Asia and date back to the late Paleocene or early Eocene Ages (over 50 million years ago). The first leporids are thought to have appeared over 30 million years ago and rapidly spread throughout the northern hemisphere, developing a trend towards increasingly long hind limbs as the modern leaping gait developed and fitting well within the size range of its better known modern relatives.
Not so for Menorca’s ‘Bigs Bunny’ who developed short legs and lost the ability to hop…!!
Short Legs, 12 kg and not ‘Hopping Mad’…!
A virtual image of the rabbit, based on the remains just found, shows that it had a short, curved spine, short ears and small eyes and brain. The Nuralagus Rex lost its long, springy spine enabling it to leap, but walked instead with the palms of its forepaws on the ground. It would have weighed around 12 kg (about 26 pounds), making it six times the size of today’s living European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).
Whereas their cousins on the continent had predators to contend with, rabbits in Menorca had no such fear, allowing them to evolve differently. With no need to look or listen for enemies, the eyes and ears became smaller and not having to flee for their lives meant that the body could grow larger as reduced mobility was not a problem. The Nuralagus Rex’s size allowed for a better economy of energy due to a lower body surface/volume ratio, an increased ability to store fat against times of food shortage and a longer intestine for a more efficient extraction of nutrients from the raw food consumed. Based on the rabbit’s curved claws, researchers suspect the animal was most probably a digger that lived on the roots and tubers it unearthed.
It has been proposed that this newfound giant might make a good mascot for Menorca and encourage people to visit the island.
The Demise of Nuralagus Rex
Following the Island Rule, which states that on an island large animals often get smaller, due to limited food, and small animals often become bigger, due to a lack of predators, Menorca had two other giant inhabitants, a dormouse (Muscardinus cyclopeus) and a tortoise (Cherirogaster gymnesica).
The isolation of the Balearic Islands at that time from the mainland allowed different animals to evolve on each island. In Mallorca, there was the Myotragus fauna (consisting of bovids and rodents), in Menorca there was mainly the giant rabbit and a tortoise, and in Ibiza there was a tortoise, lizard and two rodents. A fundamental faunal change took place during the late Pliocene / early Pleistocene period, some 3 million years ago, when Menorca and Mallorca were reunited as one landform, allowing the Myotragus Balearicus (a dwarf goat) to reach Menorca. It invaded and colonised the Menorcan Giant Lagomorph’s territory, leading to its extinction, and then lived on the islands until its own extinction some 3,000 to 5,000 years ago.