Rabbit Season!

Although I am in college, I absolutely LOVE cartoons. Some of my favorites are Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, and many more. I always love when Bugs Bunny tricks either Elmer Fudd or Daffy Duck that instead of it being rabbit season, it was duck season. Well perhaps if our ancient ancestors had eaten more rabbits, then perhaps they could’ve survived and perhaps altered our evolutionary history. Perhaps resulting in an outcome other than Homo sapiens. As an avid reader of National Geographic publications, I came across a story last week about Neanderthals. I am a Biological Anthropology major, so human evolutionary history is right up my alley. The article that I came across was titled “Failure to Hunt Rabbits Part of Neanderthals’ Demise?” and it was truly fascinating. Neanderthals are part of the same genus as we are, Homo. This means that they are not too far away from us in the evolutionary ladder and gave rise to modern humans through adaptation and evolution. Neanderthals mainly hunted the mega-fauna of their age, meaning that they hunted very large animals such as mammoths. As the global climate changed due to plate tectonics and other widespread factors, many species had to adapt. Primates, especially hominids, are extremely adaptable animals and Neanderthals were able to survive in a range of environments, so long as there were enough food resources. Climates continued to change and the mega-fauna species were becoming extinct, but small animals were on the rise. Animals such as rabbits were high in population, but Neanderthals did not possess the skills necessary to hunt and kill these animals. Hunting large animals took more brawn than brain, but small animals took talent. Other species of the genus Homo were popping up at this time and they were better equipped to survive in this changing environment. As the other species thrived, Neanderthals eventually died out and evolution continued to produce all humans today. Why didn’t the Neanderthals adapt to their changing environment? Maybe they viewed larger animals as having a greater reward, or maybe they tried to hunt smaller animals, but lacked the tool making or intelligence to be successful. I don’t know the answer, but learning about ancient cultures is still very interesting to me. Neanderthals gave rise to many of the species responsible for the archaeological discoveries we have been learning about in class. In conclusion, maybe Bugs Bunny tricked the Neanderthals into thinking it wasn’t rabbit season resulting in their demise and the birth of modern man. So thanks, Bugs. Life’s good.


5 thoughts on “Rabbit Season!

  1. I really liked this blog post. I can totally see, in slapstick fashion, Neanderthals slipping around, falling and chasing after bugs bunny. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to think that with the fall of the mega fauna, Neanderthals diet would, of course, change. Lacking the dexterity and temerity of the far superior rabbit hunters, Homo sapiens, the Neanderthals would be hard pressed to eke out an existence on their paltry diets, just like the frustrated Elmer Fudd.
    One question I have is there any evidence to support Homo sapiens hunted rabbits. I mean, of course you could get one with a spear or two but that would be difficult – and the Neanderthals could throw a spear too. I imagine successfully hunting rabbits would depend on developing traps and snares. If Homo sapiens were the first to use this technology it would definitely increase their fitness in an environment quickly being depleted of mega fauna. In summary, were Neanderthals too stupid (for lack of a better word) to develop rabbit capturing technology of the precision that the Homo sapiens allegedly did?
    This leads me to an interesting question. Did ancient Homo sapiens cohabitate environments with Neanderthal? I assume, since the two species overlapped, that there must have been some interaction. Would it be like chimps and gorilla? – family members that inhabit the same environment but do not interact. Or would it be like the complex groups of other primates and animals – co-mingling and not quite independent. If this is the case could ancient man teach anything to its Neanderthal cousin or would they view them as a threat to their food supply. Is there any evidence that Neanderthal and Homo sapiens didn’t hunt each other? That would be a twist – Neanderthals killed off by ancient man.

  2. The idea that an entire species died about simply because of the inability to hunt an animal that many people now keep as a pet seems almost Stanley Kubrickesque in its dark humor potential. Granted, the real reason the Neanderthals died out is most likely a complex answer involving several different reasons. After all, the idea that being unable to hunt rabbits and other small game is the only reason Neanderthals went extinct is simply ludicrous. However, it is interesting to learn that one of those several reasons they did was because of the inability to adapt to changing conditions. The argument that they favored big game makes sense. One large bison, for instance, could feed an entire family for a week. One rabbit would not feed a child, let alone the family. Also it would be more difficult to catch the rabbit because you would need a snare and hunting techniques along those lines. You could not just shove a spear into like you could a bison. It also makes you wonder, what if it was not Neanderthals that did not adapt and evolve? What if Homo decided not to go after the little stuff like rabbits and remained focused on the big game like bison? Would Neanderthals perhaps decided to go after the little stuff and that making this decision would have helped keep them around? We will probably never know definitively the answer to these questions. We probably will not even know for sure why Neanderthals went extinct. However, any research that helps to show why they did is never a bad thing.

  3. We all laugh, but hunting and trapping small game without modern tools is no easy task. I backpack during the summer time, and come from a community where hunting & fishing are common hobbies- I can say from experience that trying to make do without modern conveniences like rifled firearms, compound bows with composite arrows, or high tinsel fishing lines is a rough way to go. For my job, we are trained in a variety of skills useful to surviving with minimal resources in the back-country and harsh wilderness areas. During one instructional session, we were taught the basics of setting improvised traps and snares for small game- mostly rabbits or squirrels. Even with some fine cord, you would need luck, skill, and patience to be successful. When you are finally successful in catching some type of game, you then have to process or ‘clean’ the animal, removing its hide and internal organs before cooking (all of which is made considerably easier, of course, by having the advantage of possessing very sharp, very strong, modern edged tools, something our pre-historic counterparts would not have had access to). Hopefully you’ve got some practice at gutting an animal & don’t ruin the meat by breaking open any internal organs which contain very foul, acidic liquids such as urine or bile. When you’ve successfully completed all of that, you then must come up with a fire (again, not always a simple task without modern conveniences) in order to cook the meat you now have.
    Best case scenario, all that effort earns you maybe 4 pounds of lean rabbit meat, providing you just enough energy to keep going for another few days, hoping to catch another meal before true hunger sets in.
    I really think you might be on to something with the theory that the Neanderthals died out due to their inability to grasp the necessary skills to hunting small game- it’s challenging enough even for a trained, college-educated, and modernly equipped individual such as myself!

  4. I loved your comparison of the Neanderthals to Looneytoons. Although I think we all know that it quite improbable that the rabbits tricked them into not hunting them, I think the article you cited has a great point. If neanderthals were not agile enough to catch small game such as rabbits then it would extremely hard for them to survive in the rapidly changing environment around them. Although I myself am not one to be out hunting I would imagine that is much easier to take out larger slower game than it would be to catch quick small animals.
    Could it be that Neanderthals were not smart enough to change their eating habits? Could the not figure out what it took to adapt? I truly think these are all great questions to ask. I have heard the Crow magnum lived along side the neanderthals as interacting species. If this is true then why did they not work together? Or could it have been that there was no way to teach them?

  5. First, let me start off by saying Happy Easter! And you are definitely not alone when you said you love cartoons, I bet half the class still watches Saturday morning cartoons in their pj’s in bed! This post was very entertaining to read. I found it interesting that Neanderthals only hunted large animals like mammoths because they lacked the talent to hunt smaller animals like rabbits and birds. It does make sense, because the time period Neanderthals were present in was at a time when mega-fauna such as mammoths were extremely abundant. However, as you said, as time progressed, the mammoths were hunted basically to extinction, and it gave rise to an even bigger abundance of smaller animals. Neanderthals were proficient in stone tool making and creating hunting weapons with enough power to kill a mammoth, so why did they not do the same for rabbits and other small animals? Maybe it is like you said, and the Neanderthals were just so used to hunting large animals that when they became fewer and fewer and the number of small animal species were on the rise, they just did not know how to hunt them. It’s not like they could chase a rabbit in a huge, thundering herd like they most likely would have done with a mammoth. Mammoths were slow, and they would have either ran it off a cliff or cornered it and made the kill there. Rabbits, on the other hand, are small and can conserve their energy better so they can run faster and for a longer period of time, which would have tired the Neanderthals out to the point where they would have just given up. I just pictured a bunch of Neanderthals looking at a modern day pet rabbit in a cage, scratching their heads and thinking, “Why didn’t WE think of that”?

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