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Rabbits: Habits, Diet & Other Facts

Rabbits are small mammals with fluffy, short tails, whiskers and distinctive long ears. There are about 30 species of rabbits around the world, and while they live in many different environments, they have many things in common.

Size

While many people think rabbits are about the size of a cat, some rabbit species, such as the jackrabbit, can grow to be as big as a small child. Small rabbit species can be as little as 8 inches(20 centimeters) in length and weigh less than a pound. Larger rabbits grow to 20 inches (50 cm) and more than 4 pounds(1.8 kilograms). 

The world's largest rabbit clocked in at 4 feet 3 inches (129.54 cm) and 49 pounds (22 kg). The largest rabbit breeds are checkered giant, Flemish giant, French lop and giant chinchilla. 

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit
Credit: Tom Reichner | Shutterstock

Offspring

These mammals are known for their insatiable reproductive habits for good reason. They breed three to four times each year. This is because only 15 percent of baby rabbits make it to their first birthday. So, to ensure that the population grows, rabbits have more babies. 

Each pregnancy produces three to eight babies, called kittens or kits. ("Bunny" is just an affectionate name for a rabbit, young or adult, according to Small Pet Select.) After four to five weeks, a kit can care for itself. In two or three months it is ready to start a family of its own. If there is a lack of natural predators, an area can quickly become overrun with rabbits.

Diet

Rabbits are omnivores. This means that they have a plant-based diet and do not eat meat. During warm months, rabbits will nibble on herbs, peas, grasses, clover, lettuce and greens. In the winter months they eat twigs, bark and buds.

Habitat

While originally from Europe and Africa, rabbits now call many places home. Domestic rabbits need a regulated environment to protect against heat exhaustion or hypothermia. Wild rabbits don't have this problem and make their homes in various temperature extremes. Wild rabbits can be found in woods, forests, meadows, grasslands, deserts, tundra and wetlands. 

Wild rabbits create their own homes by tunneling into the ground. These tunnel systems are called warrens and include rooms for nesting and sleeping. They also have multiple entrances for quick escape. Warrens can be as deep as 9.84 feet (3 meters) underground, according to the Young People's Trust for the Environment.

Domestic rabbits often live in cages, though many rabbit owners let their pets run freely throughout their home for exercise and only place the rabbit in a cage for sleeping. 

Habits 

Rabbits are very social creatures and live in large groups called colonies. The busiest time of day for rabbits is at dusk and dawn. This is when they venture out to find food. The low light allows them to hide from predators. 

Classification/taxonomy

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Vertebrata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Lagomorpha
  • Family: Leporidae
  • Genera: Brachylagus, Pentalagus, Bunolagus, Nesolagus, Romerolagus, Oryctolagus, Sylvilagus, Poelagus
  • Species: There are more than 50 species of rabbits. The domestic rabbit is Oryctolagus cuniculus.

Conservation status

hugh heffner, lower marsh keys rabit, hugh's rabbit,
Lower marsh key rabbit, named Sylvilagus palustris hefneri after Hugh Heffner.
Credit: Wikimedia commons user Tomfriedel

While many rabbit species are over populated, the Oryctolagus cuniculus or European rabbit is considered within near threatened range by the IUCN. The population is currently dropping, and in areas such as the Iberian Peninsula, the European rabbit populations have declined to as little as 5 percent of its 1950 numbers.The white-tailed jack rabbits in Yellowstone are also becoming extinct.

 

Other facts

Rabbits can be very crafty and quick. To get away from a predator, a cottontail rabbit will run in a zigzag pattern and reach speeds of up to 18 miles an hour, according to National Geographic

Their ears can grow to 4 inches (10 cm). This stretched out length allows them to better hear predators that may be approaching. It also allows them to stay cool in hot climates. Extra body heat is released through blood vessels in the ear.

Their eyes are made for safety, too, since each eye can rotate 360 degrees. This allows them to look behind them without turning their heads.

Rabbits don't get a lot of nourishment from their diet. They often eat their own excrement to access any remaining nourishment that their digestive system may have missed the first time.

rabbit-fever-tularemia
Tularemia, or rabbit fever, can be spread from rabbits, raccoons, skunks or other small mammals.
Credit: Stock.xchng.

 

Rabbits and hares are two different species. The biggest difference between the two is what their babies look like at birth. Newborn hares are born with fur and are able to move as well as see shortly after birth.

Rabbits have a near 360-degree vision and can even see behind them. They have just one blind spot right in front of their nose.

Rabbits are popular in mythology and culture. Many people believe carrying a rabbit’s foot will bring good luck.

Nina Sen contributed to this article.

Other resources:

Rabbit Breeds by Size

Humane Society of the United States - Rabbit

IUCN Red List - Oryctolagus cuniculus

National Geographic - Cottontail Rabbit

BBC Nature - Rabbit

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