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Scientific classification
Binomial name
Oryctolagus cuniculus
Rabbit usually refers to the European Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, a native of southern Europe. It is also widely introduced elsewhere in northern Europe and Australia (see also Rabbit (ecology) for details of it as a pest species in areas where it is not native).

Table of contents
1 Rabbits in the wild
2 Rabbits as an exotic species
3 Domesticated rabbits
4 Rabbits and people
5 Rabbits in culture and literature
6 See also
7 External links
8 Other usages

Rabbits in the wild

The European Rabbit is a small grey-brown mammal, ranging from 34-45 cm in length, and are approximately 1.3-2.2 kg in weight. They have 4 sharp incisors (2 on top, 2 on bottom) that grow continuously throughout their life, and two peg teeth on the top behind the inscisors, dissimilar to those of rodents (which have only 2 each, top and bottom). Rabbits have long ears, large hind legs, and short fluffy tails. Rabbits move by hopping, using their long and powerful hind legs. To facilitate quick movement, rabbit hind feet have a thick padding of fur to dampen the shock of rapid hopping. Their toes are long, and are webbed to keep themselves from spreading apart as they jump.

They are well-known for digging networks of burrows called warrens, where they spend most of their time when not feeding. Unlike the related hares (Lepus), rabbits are altricial, the young being born blind and furless, in a furlined nest in the warren, and totally dependent upon their mother.

Related species & classification

A number of other species within the family Leporidae are also called rabbits, but usually with an additional distinguishing name, notably the cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus), a closely related American genus with thirteen species, the Amami Rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi), and the jackrabbits, which are actually hares, in the genus Lepus.

Rabbits and hares were formerly classified in the order Rodentia until 1912, when they were moved into a new order Lagomorpha. This order, in addition to containing rabbits and hares, also includes the pikas.

Rabbits as an exotic species

Rabbits have been introduced as an exotic species into a number of environments, with baleful results to vegetation and local wildlife. Locations include Laysan Island (1903) and Lisianski Island, parts of the Hawaiian Islands; Macquaire Islands, southwest of New Zealand; Smith Island, San Juan Islands, Washington (around 1900) later spreading to the other San Juan Islands; Australia and New Zealand. Rabbits were introduced to Australia in 1859 by Thomas Austin an estate holder in Victoria. They soon spread thoughout the country, see rabbit (ecology). During the 1950s experiments with introduction of a virus, Myxomatosis cuniiculi provided some relief in Australia but not in New Zealand where the insect vectorss necessary for spread of the disease were not present.

Domesticated rabbits

The European Rabbit has been extensively domesticated for food or as a pet, and is the only rabbit which has been domesticated. Domesticated Rabbits have mostly been bred to be much larger than wild rabbits, though selective breeding has produced a wide range of breeds which are kept as pets and food animals across the world. They have as much color variation among themselves as other household pets. Their fur is prized for its softness, and even today Angora rabbits are raised for their long soft fur, which is often spun into yarn. Other breeds are raised for the fur industry, particularly the Rex, which has a smooth velvet like coat. and comes in a wide variety of colors and sizes.

In the middle-size breeds, the teeth grow approximately 125 mm (5 in) per year for the upper incisors and about 200 mm (8 in) per year for the lower incisors. The teeth abrade away against one another, giving the teeth a constantly sharp edge.


The typical diet for a pet rabbit should consist of water, hay, pellets, fresh vegetables, and its own caecal pellets. Anything else, including fruit and other treats should be given only in very limited quantities, as it may cause obesity in a rabbit.

Pellets should be less than a couple months old to ensure freshness, and should consist of a minimum of 18% fibre, low protein (14-15%), and less than 1% calcium. Depending on the amount of vegetables available, an adult rabbit should be given between 1/4 and 1/2 cup of pellets per 6 pounds body weight daily. Pre-adolescent and adolescent rabbits (7 months and younger) can be given as much pellets as they can consume, although additional vegetables are preferable to additional pellets. An older rabbit (over six years) can be given more pellets if they are having difficulty maintaining a steady body weight.

Pellets were originally designed for rabbit breeders for the purpose of providing as many calories and vitamins as inexpensively as possible. This is optimal when the rabbits are being bred for food or for experimentation, but the long-term effects of a pellet-based diet on rabbits are quite negative, resulting in an obese, unhappy, and unhealthy rabbit.

Vegetables are essential to the health of rabbits. At least two cups of three different vegetables per 6 lb (3 kg) of body weight should be fed to the rabbit daily. A wide variety of vegetables will result in the healthiest rabbit; preferably a combination of dark green vegetables and a root vegetables. Stay away from beans or rhubarb, as they can cause the rabbit to become sick. Additionally, it is wise to select vegetables that are high in Vitamin A.

To ensure that the rabbit can tolerate a specific vegetable, add one vegetable at a time to its diet. If the rabbit starts to act lethargic, or exhibit diarrhea or loose stools, then discontinue use of the new vegetable immediately. Vegetables considered healthy for a rabbit:

Alfalfa, radish & clover sprouts
Artichoke (Jerusalem)
Beet greens (tops)†
Bok choy
Broccoli (mostly leaves/stems)†
Brussel sprouts
Carrots & carrot tops†
Collard greens†
Dandelion greens and flowers (beware pesticides)†
Green peppers
Lemon Balm
Mustard greens†
Pea pods†
Peppermint leaves
Radish (tops)
Raspberry leaves
Romaine lettuce (no iceberg)†
Wheat grass
† = Contains Vitamin A. ‡ = Contains goitrogens and/or oxalates, and may be toxic over long periods of time.
Hay is essential for the health of all rabbits. A steady supply of hay will help prevent hairballs and other digestive tract problems in rabbits. Additionally, it provides a number of necessary vitamins and minerals at a low calorie cost. Rabbits should be provided with a constant, unlimited supply of hay for their consumption. Rabbits enjoy chewing on hay, and always having hay available for the rabbit may reduce its tendency to chew on other items in the house. It is also a good idea to provide hay in the rabbit's litterbox, as rabbits enjoying munching on food while they are defecating.

Timothy hay and other grass hays are considered the healthiest to provide the rabbit. As a persistently high blood calcium level can prove harmful to the rabbit, hays such as alfalfa and clover hay should be avoided. Alfalfa is also relatively high in calories, and a constant diet of it can cause obesity in rabbits.

Treats are unhealthy in large quantities for rabbits, just as they are for humans. Most treats sold in pet stores are filled with sugar and high calory carbohydrates. These should be avoided; the vitamins they claim to provide are not needed, since the vegetables will provide all the vitamins the rabbit needs. In addition, they contain high quantities of sugar and other simple carbohydrates which will make the rabbit obese. If determined to feed the rabbit treats, the best treat to provide it with is fruit. Below are some acceptable fruits:

Apple (no stem or seeds)
Orange (including peel)
† = Use very sparingly, as rabbits will eat only these, and ignore their other food.
Caecal pellets are mostly digested food that rabbits defecate and subsequently reingest; a process known as refection, a form of coprophagia. Usually a rabbit will eat the pellets straight from their anus, and as such, many people do not know of this aspect of a rabbit's diet. They are often referred to as "night pellets" or "night droppings", since the rabbits tend to eat them a few hours after their evening meal.

Caecal pellets are soft, smelly, clumpy feces, and are a rabbit's only supply of Vitamin B12. Due to the design of the rabbit's digestive system, they cannot extract some vitamins and minerals directly from their food. At the end of their digestive system is an area called the caecum where cellulose and other plant fibers are broken down and ferment. After they have been broken down and passed, a rabbit's digestive system can finally extract the vitamins from them.

Occasionally, the rabbit may leave these pellets lying about their cage; while smelly, this behavior is harmless. If their caecal pellets are consistantly wet and runny, this may indicate either too little fibre, or too many starches in their diet. This probably means that they need to be fed additional hay.


Rabbits are famed for their reproductive capabilities. Although certainly not the strongest, fastest, or smartest of the mammals, they have carved out a strong ecological niche through their impressive ability to multiply quickly. This leads to the saying "breed like rabbits".

Rabbits have a very high success rate for impregnation, due to the fact that female rabbits ovulate at the time of copulation. The gestation cycle for a rabbit averages 31 days, although it can vary anywhere between 29 and 35 days. Litter sizes generally range between two and 12 rabbits.

Rabbits have many names they are known by. They are commonly referred to as bunny / bunnies. Young rabbits are known by the names bunny, kit, or kitten. "Rabbit" itself used to be the word applied to the young, with the adult being called a cony or coney (pronounced cunny). This term fell out of usage owing to the taboo value of a homonym, and "rabbit" became common usage for both the young and the adult, with "bunny" entering into use later. A male rabbit is called a buck, and a female rabbit is called a doe. A group of rabbits is known as a herd.

It is highly recommended to have pet rabbits either spayed or neutered. Female rabbits in particular face a high chance of contracting some form of reproductive cancer (ovarian, uterine or mammarian) at approximately two years of age. Spaying the female rabbit will nearly eliminate this risk. Furthermore, spaying and neutering will make the rabbit less prone to destructive behavior (such as spraying, chewing, and digging). In addition to being less destructive, they will be calmer and will generally make better companions.

Rabbits and people

Rabbits are popular pets which are either confined to a cage, or allowed to roam free in their guardian's residence. They are an example of an animal which is both petted and eaten by the same culture. Snares or shotguns are usually employed when catching rabbits for food. Dogs are often employed in rabbit hunting. Rabbits are often raised for meat called cuniculture. Rabbit pelts are a widely used fur for clothing.

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, as has the disease myxomatosis.

Rabbits in culture and literature

Rabbits are often used as a symbol of fertility. It is possibly as a consequence of this that they have been associated with Easter. The species' roles as a prey animal also lends itself as a symbol of innocence as an animal that seems to wish harm on no one. It is also a common folklore archetype of the trickster who uses his cunning to outwit his enemies. The most common example of this is Brer Rabbit and by extension, the cartoon character Bugs Bunny also typifies this image.

There is a rabbit among the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. See: Rabbit (Zodiac).

Rabbits have appeared in a host of works of film and literature, notably the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; in the popular novel Watership Down. Rabbit feet are considered lucky and fake rabbit feet are often sold as cheap trinkets.

See also

External links

Other usages