Domestic Rabbit

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CLASS:  Mammalia
ORDER:  Lagomorpha
FAMILY:  Leporidae
TAXONOMIC NAME:  Oryctolagus cuniculus

RANGE:  Domesticated form found worldwide, bred from the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) originally found on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and NW Africa and introduced onto all other continents except Antarctica and Asia.

HABITAT:  They are domestic and therefore kept in captivity.  Wild form is found in woodlands, grasslands, semi-arid regions, fields and gardens.  

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS:  There are about 45 breeds of domesticated rabbit recognized by the American Rabbit Breeders Association with varying colors, fur lengths and body sizes.  The wild European rabbit is mostly grey in color with the underside of the tail and belly being white

LIFESPAN:  On average the French Lop rabbit can live to 5 years or more. 

SOCIAL STRUCTURE:  Wild rabbits live in colonies with other rabbits in large, complex burrow systems called warrens.  Colony size is dependent on soil conditions and amount of forage available.

ACTIVE TIME:  Crepuscular and nocturnal.

DIET:  Wild:  Grasses, herbs, roots and bark of trees, shrubs and cultivated plants. 
           Zoo:  Commercial rabbit diet, hay and apple pieces.  

BEHAVIOR:  They are generally very docile and affectionate animals, but may resist being picked up by running away, hiding, or struggling.  Rabbits have a fragile spinal cord and their hind legs should be supported while they are being held to prevent accidental injuries from sudden movements or twisting.  They rely on their sense of hearing and smell more than sight, often standing on their hind legs so they can better listen or smell the area around them.  Males often scent mark within their territory by rubbing objects with their chins, which have special scent glands.  They may also mark territory borders with urine or small piles of feces.

REPRODUCTION:  Domestic rabbits will breed year round, wild rabbits generally breed from February through May.  Gestation lasts approximately 28 to 33 days, after which the doe gives birth to 4 to 6 kittens or “kits”, which are born blind and hairless.  The doe makes a nest in the bedding or underground in the case of wild rabbits, which she lines with her own fur.  In the wild, the doe does not stay with the babies during the day as it could lead predators to the kits.  She will feed them once in the morning and leave.  This feeding lasts them for 24 hours, during which time they burrow to the bottom of the nest where they stay until mom wakes them up for the next feeding.  Kits stay with the doe for 5-8 weeks, smaller rabbits will become self-sufficient quicker than larger rabbits.  The young reach maturity within 3 to 5 months.

INTERESTING FACTS:

  • Rabbits have a very complicated digestive system and are physically incapable of vomiting.  Because of this, it is possible for their stomachs to rupture from hairballs.
  • Rabbits will not eat when they are thirsty.
  • They are not rodents, but Lagomorphs, which means “hare-shaped.”
  • They have continually growing front and bottom teeth.  The teeth must properly overlap with the upper incisors over the lower teeth. If not, the teeth will continue to grow longer until the rabbit is unable to eat. 
  • Will eat their moist fecal pellets (known as coprophagy) to get the maximum nutritional benefit from their diet.

RELATIONSHIP WITH PEOPLE:  Many breeds of rabbit are usually kept as pets or show animals.  Some breeds of domestic rabbits are raised for meat or their fur.  The introduction of the European rabbit onto continents with no native predators, such as Australia, resulted in massive ecological damage and extinction of many endemic herbivores that it out-competed.