for National Geographic News
You need some serious luck to find a 53-million-year-old rabbit's foot.
As it happens, Kenneth Rose was so fortunate—but it took him a few years to realize it.
The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine anatomy professor unearthed curious bones in India several years ago.
He suspected they were important but could not identify them. So he stored them in a drawer until serendipity struck in spring 2007.
"One day I was teaching my mammals course and showing the [students] the foot of a jackrabbit, and I said, 'Hey, that's what we have in the drawer.'"
That fateful foot now appears to belong to the world's earliest known rabbit found so far, some three to four million years older than its closest contemporary.
Though modern jackrabbit feet are about four times larger, they match the 0.25-inch-long (6.4-millimeter-long) Indian fossils in shape.
"All we have is ankle bones. We'd sure like to find some teeth or skulls, but this is what we have at the moment—and they are unmistakable," Rose said.
Rose received funding from the National Geographic Society. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)
(Related news: "Mystery Mammal Fossil Found in India" [November 8, 2007].)
Previous studies have suggested that rabbits and hares diverged from pikas—mouse-like mammals that are also part of the order Lagomorpha—some 35 million years ago.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES