The Lagomorphs, order Lagomorpha, are an order of mammals of
which there are two families, Leporidae (hares and rabbits), and
Though members of order Lagomorpha can resemble rodents (order
Rodentia), and were classified as a superfamily in that order
until the early twentieth century, they are now regarded as
Rabbits differ from rodents in that:
* they have four (not two as in rodents) incisors in the upper jaw
They resemble rodents, however, in that their teeth grow
throughout their life, thus necessitating constant chewing to
keep them from growing too long.
What Are Rabbits?
Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae, found in many
parts of the world. There are seven different genera in the
family classified as rabbits, including the European Rabbit
(Oryctolagus cuniculus), cottontail rabbits (genus Sylvilagus; 13
species), and the Amami Rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi, an
endangered species on Amami Oshima, Japan). They are
distinguished from the related hares in that they are altricial,
having young that are born blind and hairless; many also live
underground in burrows.
For jackrabbits, which are actually hares, in the genus Lepus,
Rabbits vary in size and weight. As a lagomorph, 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
incisors, 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.
The young being born blind and furless, in a fur lined nest in the
warren, and totally dependent upon their mother.
Rabbits and people
The European Rabbit is the only species of rabbit to be
domesticated. However, rabbits and people interact in many
different ways beyond domestication. Rabbits are an example of an
animal which is treated as food, pet and pest by the same
When used for food, rabbits are both hunted and raised for meat.
Snares or guns along with dogs are usually employed when catching
wild rabbits for food. In many areas rabbits are also raised for
meat, a practice called cuniculture. Rabbit pelts are a widely
used fur for clothing.
Rabbits have also been a source of environmental problems when
introduced into the wild by humans (see Rabbits in Australia for
details of it as a pest species in that country). 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 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.
Amami Rabbit/Ryukyu Rabbit, Pentalagus furnessi
Bushman Rabbit, Bunolagus monticularis
Sumatra Short-Eared Rabbit, Nesolagus netscheri
Volcano Rabbit, Romerolagus diazi
Pygmy Rabbit, Brachylagus idahoensis
Forest Rabbit, Sylvilagus brasiliensis
Dice's Cottontail, Sylvilagus dicei
Brush Rabbit, Sylvilagus bachmani
San Jose Brush Rabbit, Sylvilagus mansuetus
Swamp Rabbit, Sylvilagus aquaticus
Marsh Rabbit, Sylvilagus palustris
Eastern Cottontail, Sylvilagus
New England Cottontail, Sylvilagus transitionalis
Mountain Cottontail, Sylvilagus nuttallii
Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii
Omilteme Cottontail, Sylvilagus insonus
Mexican Cottontail, Sylvilagus cunicularis
Tres Marias Rabbit, Sylvilagus graysoni
European Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus
Central African Rabbit, Poelagus marjorita
3 other genera in family, regarded as hares, not rabbits
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 as the Easter Bunny. The species' role as a prey animal
also lends itself as a symbol of innocence as an animal that
seems to wish harm on no one, another Easter connotation.
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 Br'er Rabbit from African-American folktales; by
extension the Warner Brothers cartoon character Bugs Bunny also
typifies this image.
Anthropomorphic rabbits have appeared in a host of works of film
and literature, most notably the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll's
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; in the popular novel Watership
Down, by Richard Adams; and in Beatrix Potter's works such as
It is commonly believed that a rabbit, if injected with a woman's
urine, will expire if the woman were pregnant. This is not true.
However, in the 1920s it was discovered that if the injected
urine contained the hormone hCG, a hormone found in the urine of
pregnant women, the rabbit would display ovarian changes. The
rabbit would indeed need to be killed to have its ovaries
inspected, but the death of the rabbit was not the indicator of
the results. Later revisions of the test allowed technicians to
inspect the ovaries without euthanizing the unfortunate creature.
There is a rabbit among the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac.
Rabbit feet are considered lucky and fake rabbit feet are often
sold as cheap trinkets. It also often leads to the humorous note
that the rabbit itself was not lucky to lose them.
In Japanese tradition, rabbits live on the Moon where they make
Mochi - a popular sticky snack. In Chinese literature, rabbits
also accompany Chang-e on the Moon.