Even though rabbits usually live less than one year in the wild, they reproduce so prolifically that farmers and gardeners often consider them pests. Rabbits have strong hind legs that allow them to run and leap very quickly. These animals are often a reliable food source for predators like coyotes, foxes, opossums, and humans. Rabbits are one of the most common mammals in the wild of the Eastern United States. However, many people enjoy keeping rabbits as pets as well.
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit Baby
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order - Lagomorpha
Family - Leporidae
Genus - Oryctolagus (European Rabbits), Sylvilagus (American Cottontail Rabbits)
Species - O. cuniculus (European Rabbit), S. floridanus (Eastern Cottontail)
Common Names - Domestic Rabbit, Rabbit, Bunny
Wild rabbits usually are brown or gray in color. Domesticated rabbits can be brown, black, white, gray, or spotted. They have long ears and powerful hind legs. Most rabbits have erect ears, but a few breeds of domesticated rabbits, like Lops, have drooping ears. They are covered with luxurious, soft fur. There are over 40 recognized breeds of rabbits, each with distinctive qualities. Rabbits can be dwarf, weighing around 2 pounds, or they can be quite large, like the Flemish Giant, weighing up to 15 pounds.
Rabbits are some of the most prolific mammalian breeders. A doe (female rabbit) is sexually mature around one year of age. She will usually have between 7 and 10 babies after her 30 day gestation. The babies nurse for about 5 or 6 weeks before weaning. Domesticated rabbits re-breed every 90 days.
Domesticated rabbits often suffer from boredom because nature has given them instincts to stay busy, which do not develop in captivity. Rabbits are social animals who need companionship. Therefore, domestic rabbits should never be kept alone. They love to dig tunnels and are most active in the early morning and right before sunset. Wild rabbits hide in dense thickets, brush piles, and hollow logs during the non-active parts of their day.
In Europe, wild rabbits were first domesticated on the Iberian Peninsula by monks during the time of the Roman Empire. Rabbits were then transported to places all across the Empire, such as Great Britain. Soon, rabbits were an important source of meat for the British. However, the Roman trade system eventually introduced rabbits to habitats all across the world. North American wild rabbits were an important food source for the original colonists, although no one attempted to domesticate wild rabbits on this continent. Domestic breeds of rabbits were brought to the United States from Europe sometime after 1840.