They don’t know many details yet about how it lived — or died.
But two IPFW researchers helped discover and name what they believe is a previously unknown species of prehistoric hare.
Professors James Farlow and Anne Argast of the Geosciences Department at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne reported their findings in an article for an upcoming scientific book. Farlow and Argast co-authored the report with Mary R. Dawson, curator emeritus of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. Dawson is one of the world’s top experts on prehistoric hares, Farlow said.
Fossil remains of the new hare — a portion of its lower left jaw, 14 teeth and a few fragments of limb bones — were found at the Pipe Creek Jr. quarry southwest of Marion in Grant County.
Farlow has been leading research there since 1997, a year after workers for Irving Materials, which owns the quarry, unearthed the remnants of a prehistoric sinkhole.
The soil Irving Materials removed from the top of the site, as well as digs in undisturbed portions of the 200-foot-diameter sinkhole, have yielded a stunning variety and number of fossils. The finds provide a unique snapshot of life in this area about 5 million years ago.
So far, Farlow and other researchers working with him on the project have identified four new species of mice, the new species of hare, a small rhinoceros, a bear and three types of camellike creatures. They also have found a wolflike dog with bone-crushing jaws, a cat the size of a modern-day lynx, piglike peccories, snakes, salamanders and remains of frogs and turtles.
“What is remarkable to me is the diversity of large animals we have gotten from this site,” Farlow said.
He believes the bottom of the sinkhole must have been a pond teeming with frogs, turtles and other small aquatic creatures. Larger animals must have come there to drink, or some could have been washed into the sinkhole after dying nearby on higher ground.
Farlow suspects the sinkhole may have existed only for several decades to a few centuries — a relatively brief time span in geologic terms.
At that time 5 million years ago, various species of hare existed throughout North America, Europe and Asia, Farlow and his co-authors say in their article. Hares typically are slightly larger than rabbits.
The new species they identified was larger than some other hares of that time and smaller than others, Farlow said. He estimates it would be comparable in size to today’s snowshoe hare, which measures about 16 to 20 inches long and weighs about 3 to 4 pounds.
Farlow hopes to find more fossil evidence of the new hare during future work at the quarry.
All fossils found at the sinkhole eventually will go to the Indiana State Museum, which partnered with IPFW to study the site.