What animal did rabbits evolve from?
The 55-million-year-old fossil animal, named Gomphos elkema is the oldest complete skeleton by about 20 million years and shows that some early lagomorphs, the group of animals that includes rabbits and hares, had a surprisingly modern, rabbit-like way of moving around.
But while rabbits may have been domesticated relatively recently, humans have been hunting the animals for about 120,000 years, and they have been around for much, much longer. In 2008, researchers discovered a 53 million-year-old ancestor of the modern rabbit.
An older term for an adult rabbit used until the 18th century is coney (derived ultimately from the Latin cuniculus), while rabbit once referred only to the young animals.
In any event rabbits were introduced from Spain and France to many countries including Britain. The historical evidence credits the Romans with the earliest written records of rabbits and as being the first to use hutches and walled enclosures. By the middle ages, rabbits were regularly transported across Europe.
Gomphos strongly suggests that lagomorphs started diversifying after the big dinosaurs became extinct and that rabbits and rodents have a common ancestor that probably lived among the dinosaurs.
Unlike other animals like cows (beef) and pigs (pork) where there are other names to call them, rabbit meat is simply called “rabbit meat” all over the world. This is due to the fact that rabbit meat is uncommon and somewhat rare to be eaten, so there are no culinary terms for it.
Rabbits and rodents also share some superficial similarities. The rabbit and other lagomorphs were classified under Rodentia (rodents) until early in the 20th century. This family includes rats, squirrels, mice and marmots.
(Incidentally, the Rodentia does not include rabbits; rabbits differ from rodents in having an extra pair of incisors and in other skeletal features. Rabbits, hares, and a few other species make up the Lagomorpha. Shrews, moles and hedgehogs are also not rodents; they are classified in the Mammal order Eulipotyphla.)
Evolution. The earliest representative of hares and rabbits is thought to be Hsiuannania, a ground dwelling herbivore that lived during the Paleocene in China. Hsiuannania is know from just a few fragments of teeth and jaw bones but scientists are quite certain that the hares and rabbits originated somewhere in Asia.
Unlike Rodents, Rabbits Have Four Incisor Teeth
While rodents have only two incisor teeth, rabbits have four. Many believe that a smaller set of peg-like teeth behind their top incisors (about ¼ the size of their first set of incisors) helps rabbits to bite through vegetation more easily.