Killer Rabbits: Neanderthals Couldn’t Keep Up, Says Scientist

Take a closer look at those sweet, fuzzy rabbits. They may be the reason that Neanderthal humans went extinct, according to a recent report in the Journal of Human Evolution hosted on Science Direct. A team headed by John E. Fa of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust studied the diets of Neanderthals and what they call “Anatomically Modern Humans” or AMAs.

Peter J. Bryant explained on the Darwin that there was a massive extinction event that occurred in Europe and the Americas roughly 10,000 to 13,000 years ago. It was a “selective” extinction that attacked large animals, both the herbivores that are actually good to eat, and the large carnivores that would compete with humans for those food animals.

“The extinctions occurred shortly after the first arrival of prehistoric humans. The first humans were faced with animals that had evolved in the absence of human predators, and the animals were probably easily overcome. Therefore, the most plausible explanation is that these extinctions were caused by overexploitation by human hunters,” he wrote.

Once the large animals were gone, people still got hungry — and that’s where those killer rabbits come in. John Fa’s team concluded that AMAs (that’s us, remember) didn’t have much trouble figuring out how to catch the fast hopping prey. But the Neanderthals were just too slow.

Maybe I’m not taking it seriously enough, but why do I get a mental image of an oblivious Road Runner forever eluding all the machinations of the hard-working Wile E Coyote? For some reason, I don’t think the rabbits deliberately starved the Neanderthals to death. I think they just went hopping along on their merry way, mindless of the death they left in their tracks.

But not everybody believes that bunnies are to blame. Sara Reardon for New Scientist asked Bruce Hardy, a professor of anthropology at Kenyon College in Ohio. Hardy said that AMAs may have eaten more rabbits than Neanderthals, but it goes too far to say that Neanderthals died out because they were too slow to catch enough bunnies.

Even though The Inquistr did report on the recent problem of over-abundant bunnies attacking cars at Denver’s International Airport, I for one am not yet convinced that rabbits hippety-hopping out of reach is responsible for the death of the Neanderthals. John Fa is continuing his research, and perhaps his team will soon have more evidence for killer rabbits.

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