are small mammals in the family Leporidae, found in numerous parts of
They are from time to time affectionately known as bunnies, especially by
children. There are seven distinctive genera in the family classified as
rabbits, including the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), cottontail
rabbits (genus Sylvilagus; 13 species), and the Amami Rabbit (Pentalagus
furnessi, an endangered species on Amami Oshima, Japan). There are many other
species of rabbit, and these, along with cottontails, pikas and hares make up
the Order Lagomorpha.
Rabbits ordinarily live for around 4-10 years.
Humans' relationship with rabbits
Humans' relationship with the European or ‘true’ rabbit was first recorded by
the Phoenicians over 1,000 years BC, when they termed the Iberian Peninsula
‘i-shephan-im’ (literally, ‘the land of the rabbit’), which the Romans converted
to the Latin form, "Hispania," and hence the modern word "Spain."
The European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is the only species of
rabbit to be domesticated. All pet breeds of rabbits - such as dwarf lops,
angoras, etc. - are of this species. However, rabbits and people interact in
many different ways beyond domestication. Rabbits are an example of an animal
which is treated as food, pet and pest by the same culture. In Europe the rabbit
is commonly eaten as food.
When used for food, rabbits are both hunted and raised for meat. Snares or
guns along with dogs are usually employed when catching wild rabbits for food.
In many areas rabbits are also raised for meat, a practice called cuniculture.
Rabbit pelts are sometimes used as part of accessories, such as scarves or hats.
Rabbits are also very good producers of manure; their urine, being high in
nitrogen, makes lemon trees very productive. Their milk may also be of great
medicinal or nutritional benefit due to its high protein content.
There are a number of health issues associated with the use of rabbits for
meat, one of which is Tularemia or Rabbit Fever. Another is so-called rabbit
starvation, due to either the low fat content of rabbit meat or amino acid
deficiencies in rabbit meat and synthesis limitations in human beings.
Young wild rabbit photographed in the Midwestern U.S.
A healthy indoor pet rabbit can live 6-10 years. They enjoy throwing around
toys and chewing on cardboard. In some instances, they can even become good
friends with cats and dogs. Though they are often caged in small areas, they can
be free roaming pets similar to cats and dogs, often called 'house rabbits'.
Large, inexpensive cages can be custom made from 'Idea-cubes', which can be
found in many department stores.
Female pet rabbits should be spayed at a young age, as they are extremely
prone to cervical cancer and can suffer and die later on if not prevented.
Spaying will also reduce many aggressive behaviours related to breeding. There
are also many health and behaviour benefits from the neutering of male rabbits.
Some rabbits can be extremely aggressive towards other rabbits unless effort is
made to bond the two over time, spaying/neutering both parties is key in making
this process successful.
|The Brush Rabbit (Sylvilagus
bachmani), or Western Brush Rabbit, is a
species of cottontail rabbit found in western coastal
regions of North America, from the Columbia River in
Oregon to the southern tip of the Baja California
peninsula. The Brush Rabbit does not dig its own burrow
or den, but uses the burrow of other species. The Brush
Rabbit is smaller than many of the other cottontails,
and unlike most of them, the underside of its tail is
grey rather than white.
Provided they are well cared for, rabbits can make friendly and playful pets.
They are widely kept throughout the world, both indoors and out. Rabbits kept
indoors are typically healthier and more social than rabbits kept outdoors.
Housed indoors and provided with adequate damage-proofing (especially of
electrical cables and house plants that may be toxic), rabbits are relatively
safe from predators, parasites, disease, and temperature extremes. Rabbits kept
outdoors must be provided with shelter that is heated in winter and shaded in
summer. Domesticated rabbits are most comfortable in temperatures between 10 to
21 degrees Celsius (50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit), and cannot endure temperatures
above 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit).
Veterinarians specializing in
rabbits recommend a diet consisting of clean water, a small amount of commercial
pellets and unlimited grass hay daily. Other vegetables (2 cups per 5 pounds of
body weight) should be fed: good choices include romaine lettuce (not iceberg),
parsley, cilantro, dandelion, radicchio, endive, and basil. Carrots and fruits
should be used sparingly. Domestic rabbits should be checked daily as infections
and illnesses can occur very quickly. Teeth should not be too long because if
they are the rabbit cannot eat. Do not attempt to grind or clip a rabbit's
teeth; one is advised to seek a veterinarian. Rabbit's teeth can grow up to five
inches a year.
The eyes should be clean with no
crusts evident. Checking the rabbit's vent area (bottom) is vital as any feces
left will attract flies that will leave eggs and hatch into maggots. The maggots
will then eat rotten flesh causing severe pain for the animal. Ears also should
be clean along with any other part of the rabbit.
Environmental problems with rabbits
Rabbits have also been a source of environmental problems when introduced
into the wild by humans. Because of their appetites, and the rate at which they
breed, wild rabbit depredation can prove problematic for agriculture. Gassing,
barriers (fences), shooting, snaring and ferreting have been used to control
rabbit populations, but most effective are diseases such as myxomatosis ('myxo'
for short), and calicivirus. In Europe, where rabbits are farmed on a large
scale, they are protected against myxomatosis and calicivirus with a genetically
modified virus. The virus was developed in Spain, and is beneficial to rabbit
farmers. If it were to make its way into wild populations in areas such as
Australia, this could create a population boom, since those diseases are the
major threats to the rabbits' survival.
Rabbits and hares were formerly classified in the order Rodentia (rodent)
until 1912, when they were moved into a new order Lagomorpha. This order, in
addition to containing rabbits and hares, also includes the pikas.
- Family Leporidae
- Genus Pentalagus
- Amami Rabbit/Ryukyu Rabbit, Pentalagus furnessi
- Genus Bunolagus
- Bushman Rabbit, Bunolagus monticularis
- Genus Nesolagus
- Sumatra Short-Eared Rabbit, Nesolagus netscheri
- Annamite Rabbit, Nesolagus timminsi
- Genus Romerolagus
- Volcano Rabbit, Romerolagus diazi
- Genus Brachylagus
- Pygmy Rabbit, Brachylagus idahoensis
- Genus Sylvilagus
- Forest Rabbit, Sylvilagus brasiliensis
- Dice's Cottontail, Sylvilagus dicei
- Brush Rabbit, Sylvilagus bachmani
- San Jose Brush Rabbit, Sylvilagus mansuetus
- Swamp Rabbit, Sylvilagus aquaticus
- Marsh Rabbit, Sylvilagus palustris
- Eastern Cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus
- New England Cottontail, Sylvilagus transitionalis
- Mountain Cottontail, Sylvilagus nuttallii
- Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii
- Omilteme Cottontail, Sylvilagus insonus
- Mexican Cottontail, Sylvilagus cunicularis
- Tres Marias Rabbit, Sylvilagus graysoni
- Genus Oryctolagus
- European Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus
- Genus Poelagus
- Central African Rabbit, Poelagus marjorita
- 3 other genera in family, regarded as hares, not rabbits
Diet and eating habits
Rabbits are herbivores that eat by grazing on grass, forbs, and leafy weeds.
Their diet takes in large amounts of cellulose, which is difficult to digest.
Rabbits figure out this problem by passing two different types of faeces: hard
droppings and soft black viscous pellets, the latter of which are at once eaten.
Rabbits reingest their own droppings (rather than chewing the cud as do cows and
many other herbivores) to digest their food further and extract enough
Rabbits graze heavily and rapidly for roughly the first half hour of a grazing
period (usually in the late afternoon), followed by about half an hour of more
selective feeding. In this time, the rabbit will also excrete many hard fecal
pellets, being waste pellets that will not be reingested. If the surroundings
are relatively non-threatening, the rabbit will stay outdoors for many hours,
grazing at intervals.
While out of the burrow, the rabbit will occasionally
reingest its soft, partially digested pellets; this is rarely observed, since
the pellets are reingested as they are produced. Reingestion is most common
within the burrow between 8 o'clock in the morning and 5 o'clock in the evening,
being carried out intermittently within that period.
Hard pellets are made up of hay-like pieces of plant cuticle and stalk, being
the final waste product after redigestion of soft pellets. These are only
released outside the burrow and are not reingested. Soft pellets are usually
manufactured several hours after grazing, after the hard pellets have all been
excreted. They are made up of micro-organisms and undigested plant cell walls.
The chewed plant material gathers in the large cecum, a secondary chamber
between the large and small intestine containing large quantities of symbiotic
bacteria that help with the digestion of cellulose and also produce certain B
vitamins. The pellets are about 56% bacteria by dry weight, predominantly
accounting for the pellets being 24.4% protein on average. These pellets remain
intact for up to six hours in the stomach; the bacteria within continuing to
digest the plant carbohydrates.
The soft feces form here and contain up to five
times the vitamins of hard feces. After being excreted, they are eaten whole by
the rabbit and redigested in a special part of the stomach. This
double-digestion process enables rabbits to use nutrients that they may have
missed during the first passage through the gut, as well as the nutrients formed
by the microbial activity and thus ensures that maximum nutrition is derived
from the food they eat. This process aids the same purpose within the rabbit as
rumination does in cattle and sheep.
Rabbits are not able to vomit.
Rabbits in culture and literature
Rabbits are often used as a symbol of fertility. It is possible that as a
consequence of this that they have been associated with Easter as the Easter
Bunny. The species' role as a prey animal also lends itself as a symbol of
innocence as an animal that seems to wish harm on no one, another Easter
connotation. In addition, the animal is often used as a symbol of playful
sexuality, which plays off of its perceived image of innocence, as well as its
reputation as a prolific breeder.
It is also a common folklore archetype of the trickster who uses his cunning
to outwit his enemies. Well-known examples of this are the Br'er Rabbit
character from African-American folktales and the Warner Brothers cartoon
character Bugs Bunny.
In the folklore of the United States, a rabbit's foot is frequently carried
as an amulet, and is often made into a keychain, where it is thought to bring
luck. The practice derives from the system of African-American folk magic called
The differences from
hares and rabbits
Rabbits are clearly distinguished from hares in
that rabbits are altricial, having young that are born blind and
hairless. In contrast, hares are generally born with hair and are
able to see (precocial). All rabbits except the cottontail rabbit
live underground in burrows or warrens, while hares live in simple
nests above the ground (as does the cottontail rabbit), and usually
do not live in groups. Hares are generally larger than rabbits, with
longer ears, and have black markings on their fur. Hares have not
been domesticated, while rabbits are often kept as house pets. In
gardens, they are typically kept in hutches — small, wooden,
house-like boxes — that protect the rabbits from the environment and
Anthropomorphic rabbits have appeared in a host of works of film and
literature, most notably the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll's Alice's
Adventures in Wonderland; in the popular novel Watership Down, by
Richard Adams; and in Beatrix Potter's works such as Peter Rabbit.
It is commonly believed that a rabbit, if injected with a woman's urine, will
expire if the woman is pregnant. This is not true. However, in the 1920s it was
discovered that if the injected urine contained the hormone hCG, a hormone found
in the urine of pregnant women, the rabbit would display ovarian changes. The
rabbit would indeed need to be killed to have its ovaries inspected, but the
death of the rabbit was not the indicator of the results. Later revisions of the
test allowed technicians to inspect the ovaries without euthanizing the rabbit.
In Japanese tradition, rabbits live on the Moon where they make mochi - the
popular snack of mashed sticky rice. This comes from interpreting the pattern of
dark patches on the moon as a rabbit standing on tiptoes on the left working
something like a butter churn. A pop culture manifestation of this tradition can
be found in the character known as Sailor Moon, whose name is Usagi, Japanese
In Chinese literature, rabbits also accompany Chang'e on the Moon. Also
associated with the Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year), rabbits are also one
of the twelve celestial animals in the Chinese Zodiac for the Chinese calendar.
It is interesting to note that the Vietnamese lunar new year replaced the rabbit
with a cat in their calendar, since rabbits didn't exist in Vietnam.