Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Hunt

Several years ago, Kenneth Rose, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine anatomy professor found some curious bones while traveling through India. Unable to determine what sort of bones they were, he decided to store them in a drawer. In the spring of 2007, it finally hit him! The foot that he found appears to belong to the world's earliest known rabbit found so far, making it 3-4 million years older than its closest contemporary.

Past studies indicated that rabbits and hares evolved 35 million years ago from pikas - mouse-like mammals part of the order Lagomorpha. But Rose and his colleagues believe the new bones show rabbit-like features evolving as far back as the early Eocene (54.8 to 33.7 million years ago).

Robert Asher, zoologist from Cambrige University agreed with these assumptions: "The particular importance of this is that it documents the oldest occurrence of a crown lagomorph—that is, a lagomorph that shares a closer relationship to rabbits and hares to the exclusion of pikas."

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