Rare Oligocene Paleolagus Fossils from Badlands
Ancient Rabbits

Palaeolagus sp. (ancient rabbits)

Class Mammalia, Order Lagomorpha, Family Leporidae

Geological Time: Upper Oligocene

Size: Skulls are about 50 mm; stretched bodies would be some 50 cm.

Fossil Site: White River Badlands, Wyoming

Oligocene Paleolagus FossilsDescription: Palaeolagus, meaning ancient hare, is an extinct genus of lagomorph in the family Leporidae. While closely related to modern rabbits, its’ shorter hind legs indicate it ran more like rodents, to which it is more distantly related, than hopped like rabbits of today. Palaeolagus also chewed differently than rodents due to having two pairs of incisors in the upper jaw as opposed to a single pair in rodents. With jaws adapted for nibbling grass and plant material, Lagomorphs chew sideways, while rodent jaws work back and forth. Paleolagus
The earliest leporids described from the fossil record of North America and Asia date to the upper Eocene some 40 million years ago. Selective pressure ostensibly drove them to become ever faster and better at running and jumping. Other fossil finds from Asia indicate more primitive progenitors of Palaeolagus existed in the lower Eocene; this pushes the like date of divergence of rabbit-like and rodent-like lagomorphs back to more than 50 million years ago. Perhaps the biggest adaptive advantage of lagomorphs is in the procreation department, a fact often used as a humorous metaphore by Homo sapiens.

While Palaeolagus was surely highly prevalent in the savanna environment of Oligocene North America, the size and fragility of their fossils make them rare. This Oligocene matrix from the badlands of Wyoming contains two Palaeolagus that are largely intact, an even more rare occurrence. Perhaps this pair were lovers in life. The beautiful preparation has left them in matrix, perhaps as they expired together, snuggled for eternity in their rock grave.

click to enlarge

Fossil Museum Navigation:
Fossils Home
Geological Time Paleobiology Geological History Tree of Life
Fossil Sites Fossils Evolution Fossil Record Museum Fossils