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It was the Bunny! Rabbits to Blame for Demise of Neanderthals

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013
Neanderthal

Mural by artist Charles R. Knight depicting a Neanderthal family.

A new study published in Journal of Human Evolution points the finger at rabbits for the demise of Neanderthals. John Fa of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust says the fall of the Neanderthal occurred when they failed to adapt to the changing availability of prey animals. These early hominids were adept at catching large animals, like dolphins, seals, and deer. There is even evidence from scales and feathers on their tools that they could also catch fish and birds. However, when smaller prey mammals like rabbits became a prevalent food source 30,000 years ago, it coincides with the decline of the Neanderthal population.

One theory is that Neanderthals failed to use cooperative hunting techniques like early humans did, such as surrounding a warren and forcing the rabbits out with smoke or dogs. This inability to adapt their hunting techniques to a changing environment may have ultimately led to their demise.

So the next time you’re trying to catch your house rabbit to trim his nails or take him to the vet, and he’s bounding away, escaping your grasp, just remind yourself that unless you’re part Neanderthal, you’re supposed to be able to catch him.

Learn more at New Scientist.