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Mystery Behind Handstanding Rabbits Finally Solved and it Has to Do With Their Genetics

R. Cavignaux / PLOS GENETICS.

R. Cavignaux / PLOS GENETICS.

While the other species of rabbits hop on their hind legs, Sauteur d' Alfort rabbits do a 'handstand' on their forelegs by lifting their back legs from the ground.

Sauteur d'Alfort rabbits, commonly known as Alfort jumping rabbits, have a very different way of moving. While the other species of rabbits hop on their hind legs, Sauteur d' Alfort rabbits do a 'handstand' on their forelegs by lifting their back legs from the ground. They then move in this position while maintaining their balance. This unique way of moving these rabbits created a curiosity among the scientist and other curious folks. Ever since the discovery of this species of rabbits in 1935, scientists have been trying to understand the logic behind this unique movement style that sets it apart from other types of bunnies.

Now, a recent study claims to be solving this mystery and credits it to a genetic mutation. According to the BBC Newsround, Sauteur d'Alfort rabbits have a warped RORB gene and a mutation in the genes that can result in the loss of spinal cord interneurons. Speaking to Gizmodo, Leif Anderrson, a co-author of the study, explained that this neuron coordinates muscle movement and check if the limbs are in balance. However, in the Alfort rabbits, this coordination process is not in balance.

These interneurons were totally absent or present in very little quantity in Alfort rabbits. This causes the absence or loss of saltatorial locomotion — the ability to jump or hop.

So, the handstand movement is Alfort rabbits’ way of working around an inability to move or jump like other normal species. The baby rabbits of this species learn to move on their front legs and compensate for their spinal defect and inability to move like others.

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According to the reports, a group of 12 scientists performed a study that involved breeding Alfort rabbits with other rabbits that can hop and jump normally. After that, the DNA of these roughly 50 descendants was arranged in a series. Scientists were able to recognise the mutation in the code at the RORB gene in some of the baby rabbits who had hand-standing gaits.

first published:April 06, 2021, 11:11 IST