What did rabbits evolve from?

Last Updated on June 13, 2023 by Admin

Rabbits were first domesticated as early as the 5th century. They were kept as pets or bred for their meat and fur. However, the age-old question is what did rabbits evolve from? Fossil records dating back to 40 million years ago suggest that Lagomorpha (an order of mammals that rabbits belong to) evolved from Asia. This geological period is referred to as Eocene.


Rabbit Evolution


Rabbits belong to the Lagomorpha order of mammals that also consists of hares and pikas. Fossil records for Lagomorpha found in Asia date back at least 40 million years ago. To be specific, the European wild rabbit evolved on the Iberian Peninsula in Spain around 4000 years ago. Around 200 BC, the Romans arrived in Spain and started keeping bunnies in enclosures where they breed them for fur and meat. This practice was commonly referred to as cuniculture.

Rabbit evolution


  • What animal did rabbits evolve from?

Fossil dating back 55 million years ago of an animal known as Gomphos Elkema is considered to be the oldest ancestor of rabbits, hares, and pikas. This particular animal had a rabbit-like way of movement, which included a hindlimb longer than the forelimb. However, other features contrast the modern-day bunny. In other words, Gomphos Elkema had a mixture of modern-day rodents and lagomorphs. This new discovery contrary to popular belief now shows that the two groups have a common ancestor.



  • How did rabbits evolve over time?

Rabbits are believed to have continuously evolved in North America up until 40 million years ago. The current domesticated rabbit breeds were all bred from a single species thus altering only a small percentage of their genetics. However, modern-day rabbits’ evolution over time has been based on environmental and human impacts and also resistance to viruses and common ailments.  In other words, people bred domestic rabbits with the intent of making it easier to raise them healthily in captivity.


  • How does rabbit evolution connect to natural selection?

Evolution and natural selection go hand in hand. Bunnies that adapted well to their surroundings are the ones that managed to pass genes to future generations. According to Darwin’s theory, existence, variation, and inheritance are some of the enabling conditions for natural selection.


  • How did rabbits go through natural selection?

Recent studies reveal that genetic mutation among rabbits occurred due to necessity which triggered natural selection. For example, rabbits have over the years developed a strong resistance to myxomatosis as a means to prolong their lifespan. For instance, this particular mutation to this life-threatening virus has generally increased rabbit numbers in Australia, Britain, and France.


Another evidence of gene mutation due to natural selection is the evolution of white fur rabbits changing into brown-colored bunnies. This is a result of the latter’s fur color blending well with their surrounding, which increased their chances of survival. Therefore, the gene mutation enabled them to pass their genes to their offspring. Eventually, over time, more brown rabbits evolved from the equator while their white counterpart’s numbers diminished.


  • Was there a prehistoric rabbit?

Fossil remains of a prehistoric rabbit named Nuralagus rex were found dating back around 3 to 5 million years ago. They lived off the coast of Spain on a small island called Minorca. This bunny weighed about 26 pounds and to date is one of the largest lagomorphs to have ever existed. Nuralagus rex provided scientists with great insight into the evolution and adaptation of rabbits in an environment free from predators.


  • What animals are rabbits related to?


Although most people think that rodents are closely related to rabbits and hares, new studies suggest otherwise. On the contrary, lagomorphs are more related to mammals than rodents.


  • What is a rabbit native to?


Nearly half of the world’s rabbit population comes from North America. However, some are native to southeast Asia, southwestern Europe, sections of japan islands, Sumatra, South America, and a few parts of Africa. The European rabbit or Oryctolagus cuniculus was domesticated in all continents except Asia and Antarctica.


  • Why is a rabbit, not a rodent?


Contrary to popular belief, rabbits aren’t rodents. The reason why rabbits are not categorized as rodents is due to the fact that their dental structures are different. Bunnies have four incisors on their upper jaw including two non-functional teeth. Rodents on the other hand, only have two incisors on their upper jaw. The former belongs to the Lagomorpha order while the latter belongs to the Rodentia order. However, both mammals have two lower incisors.


  • Are any rabbit breeds about to face extinction?


Close to half of the world’s bunnies are on the verge of going extinct. More so, the European Rabbit or the Oryctolagus cuniculus is the one closer to facing extinction. To be specific, the Blanc de Hotot, Amami, and Silver Marten rabbits are the most endangered breeds.


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