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These Rabbits Do Handstands and It’s Not Just For Easter

Put your right foot forward
Put your left foot out
Do the Bunny hop
Hop, hop, hop

(The Bunny Hop by Ray Anthony & his orchestra)

Does anyone really need a song to remind them how to do the Bunny Hop? According to a new study, there’s a strange species of rabbit that can’t be helped by the song, videos, visits from the Easter bunny or any other conventional rear-leg hopping guides because they get around just fine by hopping on their tiny front legs. And, for all of you disbelievers and ‘April Fools’ joke’ accusers (it’s still a few days away), there’s an actual scientific study on the phenomenon that gives the how’s and now the why’s of this strange mode of movement. Kids, don’t try this at home … at least not until you read the story of the Sauteur d’Alfort front-hopping bunnies.

“Here, we take advantage of one strain of domesticated rabbits, the sauteur d’Alfort, that exhibits an abnormal locomotion behavior defined by the loss of the typical jumping that characterizes wild-type rabbits. Strikingly, individuals from this strain frequently adopt a bipedal gait using their front legs.”

In a new study published in the journal PLOS Genetics, a team of a dozen researchers led by Miguel Carneiro, a geneticist at the University of Porto in Portugal, looked at the sauteur d’Alfort (the Alfort jumper), a species of domesticated rabbits discovered in 1935 in Maisons-Alfort, home of the famous National Veterinary School of Alfort. These rabbits caught the eye of Alfort residents because they appeared to be unable to use their unlucky rear legs for hopping but got around just fine doing a rabbit version of walking on their hands. (Watch a video here and see plenty of photos here.) Doing what anyone would do upon seeing such a sad situation solved by rabbits who refused to be disabled, the locals captured the rabbits and bred and sold them for fun and profit under the name Alfort Jumpers. While otherwise healthy (although some were also blind), no one could explain their unusual locomotion.

“Using a combination of experimental crosses and whole genome sequencing, we show that a single locus containing the RAR related orphan receptor B gene (RORB) explains the atypical gait of these rabbits. We found that a splice-site mutation in an evolutionary conserved site of RORB results in several aberrant transcript isoforms incorporating intronic sequence. This mutation leads to a drastic reduction of RORB-positive neurons in the spinal cord, as well as defects in differentiation of populations of spinal cord interneurons. Our results show that RORB function is required for the performance of saltatorial locomotion in rabbits.”

The researchers put their explanation in science-speak just to make sure you know it’s not an April Fools’ joke. As Carneiro explains to the rest of us in Gizmodo, by breeding the Alfort jumpers with normal rabbits, they were able to sequence the DNA of the offspring and trace the condition to a mutation on the first chromosome in the gene and protein RORB. The mutation caused these rabbits to have non-functioning interneurons that caused them to overflex their hind legs, rendering them incapable of hopping.

This has to be a trick.

OK, that explains the ‘why’ of why these bunnies can’t hop normally, but what about the ‘how’ as in “How did they switch to walking on their front legs”? Unfortunately, the researchers don’t comment on this ingenious development, so we’re left to speculate that a species smart enough to make humans buy billions of chocolate bunnies and make them believe they’re delivered by one rabbit in one night to celebrate an otherwise huge religious holiday is one smart species … despite what the tortoise says.

Dance this new creation
It’s the new sensation
Do the Bunny hop
Hop, hop, hop
All join in the fun
Father, mother, son
Do the Bunny hop
Hop, hop, hop
Put your right foot forward
Put your left foot out
Do the Bunny hop
Hop, hop, hop

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Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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