Unlike the Easter Bunny, these rabbits can’t hop. Scientists have solved the mystery of the ‘hand-standing’ bunnies.

Sauteur d'Alfort rabbits hopping
The typical posture of a Sauteur d’Alfort rabbit when walking.

  • Sauteur d’Alfort rabbits walk on their front legs, as opposed to hopping on their hind legs.
  • Scientists finally have an explanation as to why this species has such a peculiar gait.
  • The ‘hand-standing’ rabbits walk on their forelegs because of a genetic mutation, a PLoS study found.
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Sauteur d’Alfort rabbits, also known as Alfort jumping rabbits, have a peculiar way of moving.

Instead of hopping on their hind legs, like other bunnies, the Sauteur d’Alfort rabbits lift their back legs from the ground and ‘hand-stand’ on their forelegs.

They then scurry forward on their front paws, maintaining their balance.

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Ever since the species was first discovered in 1935, scientists have been baffled as to why the furry creatures are unable to hop or jump like most other rabbits.

Academics from PLoS Genetics– a peer-reviewed scientific journal – now have an explanation, Gizmodo reported.

The unusual gait can be explained by a genetic mutation, the study found.

This species has a warped RORB gene, BBC Newsround said. “This was the only mutation that stood out as really striking,” Miguel Carneiro, an academic at the University of Porto, told the media outlet.

A mutation in the RORB gene can result in the loss of spinal cord interneurons.

“When you move, these neurons fire all the time, they coordinate muscle contractions and know if the other limbs are in balance,” Leif Andersson, a co-author of the study, told Gizmodo. “This coordination of muscle contraction is not correct in these rabbits.”

In the Sauteur D’Alfort rabbits, these interneurons were either less abundant or totally absent, the study said. This, in turn, results in the loss of saltatorial locomotion – the ability to jump or hop.

The hand-standing is a result of the rabbits working around their inability to travel like other species, the study said.

Baby rabbits of this species learn, after a few months, to walk solely on their front legs to compensate for the genetic mutation and consequent spinal defects, the New Scientist said.

It’s unlikely that the quirky gait causes the animals any pain, Gizmodo reported.

The team of 12 scientists solved the mystery of the hand-standing rabbits after an experiment involving the breeding of a Sauteur d’Alfort rabbit with another species that can hop and jump normally, Slate reported.

The scientists then sequenced the DNA of the 50 or so descendants, the Smithsonian Magazine said.

Some of the baby rabbits had hand-standing gaits and scientists were able to identify the mutation in the code at the RORB gene in these animals, the magazine added.

Previous studies have shown that RORB mutations in other animals, such as mice, can interfere with normal movement. RORB-deficient mice waddle like ducks, the PLoS study said.

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Animals stranded on board 20 livestock ships trapped in the Suez Canal jam could starve and die if the situation lasts much longer, charity warns

ever given suez canal
Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship, that is wedged across the Suez Canal and blocking traffic in the vital waterway is seen Saturday, March 27, 2021.

  • The Ever Given ship is still lodged in the Suez Canal, causing a jam of more than 200 vessels.
  • At least 20 livestock ships are trapped, The Guardian reported.
  • The stranded animals could starve and die if the situation lasts much longer, a charity warned.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

At least 20 livestock ships have been unable to pass through the Suez Canal due to the blockage of the global trade route by the massive Ever Given container ship, according to The Guardian.

These livestock ships are among the more than 200 vessels stuck in the bottleneck, according to The Washington Post.

There are concerns that if the blockage lasts much longer, the animals stranded on the ships could starve, dehydrate, and even die.

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“My greatest fear is that animals run out of food and water and they get stuck on the ships because they cannot be unloaded somewhere else for paperwork reasons,” Gerit Weidinger, EU coordinator for the Animals International charity, told The Guardian.

“Getting stuck on board means there is a risk [for the animals] of starvation, dehydration, injuries, waste buildup so they can’t lie down, and nor can the crew get rid of dead animal bodies in the [Suez] canal.” Weidinger continued. “It’s basically a ticking biohazard timebomb for animals and the crew and any person involved.”

The majority of the ships loaded animals weeks ago in both Spain and Romania, Animals International told The Guardian.

Spanish officials told the paper on Thursday that a pause has been introduced on shipping animals to the Middle East due to the logjam, the paper said.

“We cannot tell you anything about these ships, but due to the blockage of the Suez canal as a result of the grounding of the cargo ship, the Spanish administration has given orders that no animal transport ships bound for Saudi Arabia and Jordan should be loaded until the canal can be navigated normally,” the Spanish agriculture ministry told The Guardian.

The Romanian agriculture ministry did not respond to the paper’s request for comment.

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