Old World Rabbit


ORDER: Lagomorpha

FAMILY: Leporidae

GENUS: Oryctolagus

SPECIES: cuniculus

DESCRIPTION:
Average body weight is 3 to 5 pounds (1350-2250 grams); rabbits bred domestically for meat may reach 15 pounds. Total body length up to 16 inches. Long ears and long hind legs; large eyes placed on side of head. Tail is short. There is a wide variation in body color and fur quality. Pelage has triple formation: (1) dense, soft, wooly undercoat;(2) strong medium-long middlecoat; and (3) long, sparse topcoat. Males are slightly larger than females and have larger chin glands; female head is longer and more delicate. Feet have five digits, but one is very small; soles have hairy cushions and large, straight claws.

GEOGRAPHICAL RANGE AND HABITAT:
Originally inhabited southwestern Europe and northwestern Africa, but has been introduced into most major land masses and some large islands, such as Australia and New Zealand. Not found in Antarctica, Madagascar, parts of the Middle East, and southern South America. Lives mainly in grasslands and open woodlands where it digs extensive burrows.

DIET:
Almost exclusively herbivorous, eating herbaceous plants, grass, bark and twigs.

LIFE CYCLE/SOCIAL STRUCTURE:
Rabbits are essentially nocturnal, emerging from burrows in early evening and retiring in early morning.They are gregarious, digging tunnels adjacent to others of their kind. These passages are 6 inches in diameter, increasing to 1 foot in spots, and have emergency exits and nurseries. Mating season is January through June. Gestation is 28 to 33 days. Since the female is estrous about 12 hours after giving birth, as many as 6 litters could be produced yearly. A litter of 3 to 9 young is born inside the burrow. They are blind, naked and deaf, with ears closed and lacking power of movement until 10 days old. The eyes open about a day later. The "kittens" start taking solid food about the 16th day, and are weaned at 30 days, when they are capable of independent existence. The birth weight of about one ounce increases to ten ounces in 3 to 6 weeks. Sexual maturity is reached in 3 to 4 months. The male rabbit is called a buck, the female a doe. The communal group is referred to as a colony. Life span is rarely more than 9 years.

SPECIAL ADAPTATIONS:
To make their tunnels, called "warrens", rabbits use forepaws to loosen earth, then kick it back with their powerful hind feet. The diggers are said to remove obstructive stones with their teeth. Rabbits use their hind feet to drum alarm signals to communal residents when attacked by their chief enemies - man, weasel, rat, raven, crow, hawk, seagull. Rabbits have a keen sense of smell and hearing. They vocalize with occasional low grunts and may scream when attacked.

INTERPRETIVE INFORMATION:
Like all lagomorphs, rabbits have an unusual means of obtaining maximum value from food consumed. They void two types of feces: dry pellets which are deposited outside the burrow; and moist pellets which are expelled within the shelter and later reingested. This habit has been compared to "chewing the cud" in ruminant animals.

OUR ANIMALS:

STATUS IN WILD:
In some areas where the species was introduced (New Zealand, Australia), they have reverted to a wild state. Having no natural predators, they have increased their numbers vastly and have devastated grassland, depriving domestic animals (sheep, etc.) of food.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Nowak, Ronald and Paradisio, John. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World, 4th Ed, Vol. I, Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 482-484.

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