Rabbits walking on their front legs

They are not acrobats, but they would look good in any circus. They are known as “Alfort-Springer”. You run in tight tightrope walk style. Discovered in 1935, these animals have puzzled scientists for decades. They are the rabbits that walk on their front legs.

Rabbits that walk on their front legs look like circus acrobats.
Rabbits that walk on their front legs look like circus acrobats.
Acrobatic jumpers

This behavior can only be explained in 2021. The finding could even be useful to humans. In fact, not all four-legged rabbits jump and run at high speed. In 1935 the French veterinarian Etienne Letard described this group. He was fascinated by the behavior of these rabbits. They have been known by the French name ever since Alfort sweater (Alfort-Springer). Despite the documentation, Letard couldn’t explain the reasons rabbits did this.

A statement appeared in 2021. It was received by researchers led by Miguel Carneiro (University of Porto) and Jennifer Viellard (University of Uppsala). They showed the reason for the special gait of these rabbits. It is related to a genetic defect.

The study was published March 25 in the journal PLOS Genetics. It is quoted in the journal Science News. He attributes rabbit behavior to a mutation in the gene known as RORB. The mutation they “drastically” present reduces this gene in their spinal cord.

The jump gene

The presence of this gene is necessary for jumping movement, the usual way of walking rabbits based on small jumps.

The researchers confirmed this with two experiments. First with mice. They also started walking on their front legs after having a gene mutation. And then with the rabbits themselves. They crossed rabbits with the gene dysfunction with others without the condition. When analyzing their young, they found that the mutation was not found in rabbits that could jump.

Leif Andersson is one of the Swedish geneticists who participated in the study. He explained that the RORB gene mutation affects interneurons in the spinal cord. These help the body coordinate the left and right body parts. Rabbits that walk on their front legs lack the gene. They don’t coordinate what their back legs are doing and they lose the ability to jump.

This can spread to other animals, including humans. To everyone who needs to coordinate their limbs in order to run. Thanks to this mysterious gene.

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