The European Rabbit
The European Rabbit, or Oryctolagus cuniculus, is also
called the Old World Rabbit and is the ancestor of domestic
rabbits. It is believed that the European Rabbit was
originally trapped by the Ice Age on the Iberian Peninsula,
small parts of France, and northwest Africa, but today it
has been spread by humans to most of the world. Feral
European rabbits live in the wild on every continent except
perhaps Asia and Antarctica, and pet rabbits can be found
all over the world.
Wild European Rabbits have a coat that is usually grayish,
with black, brown and sometimes reddish hairs spread
throughout. Their bellies are a lighter version of the top
colors, and the underside of the tail is usually white. Old
World Rabbits range in size from thirteen to eighteen inches
(thirty-four to forty-five centimeters) long, and weigh up
to five pounds (two kilograms); domesticated versions may
grow much larger.
They have long ears, though not as long as those of the
hares, long hind legs with large feet, and short, fluffy
tails. Rabbits travel by hopping, propelled by their large
and strong rear legs. Their hind feet have a thick cushion
of fur to dampen the shock and long webbed toes that grip
the ground well.
Like the hares, European Rabbits also have four large and
sharp front teeth (incisors) in the top and bottom that
never stop growing throughout their lives. (Rodent teeth
also grow continually, but rabbits are in the order
lagomorpha rather than rodentia.) Although rabbits are
normally silent, they can scream loudly when injured or
badly frightened. They normally communicate with each other
through scent or touch, and warn of danger by thumping their
hind legs on the ground.
Old World Rabbits are grazers and primarily vegetarian,
eating a highly fibrous diet of dried grasses and other
vegetation. Like many other grazers, rabbits engage in
copophragy, re-eating their feces for further digestion and
European Rabbits prefer dry areas in the lowlands, with
soft sandy soil in which they dig extensive networks of
burrows, called warrens. They hide, sleep, and raise their
young underground in their burrows, coming out to forage in
the early mornings and late evenings. The range of a rabbit
colony can be from one or two acres up to fifty acres,
depending on food availability.
Rabbits are well-known for their reproductive talents.
European Rabbits breed year-round and gestation lasts about
thirty days. The average litter is five to six young, and
the females go back into heat as soon as the young are born,
so she can give birth to up to three litters per year.
Unlike the hares, rabbits are born blind and spend
their first few weeks exclusively in the fur-lined nest with
The young are weaned at about one month old, and are ready
to breed by about eight months. Although the great majority
of young rabbits become prey before they are one year old,
it is possible for individuals to live nine or ten years in
the wild, and up to twelve in captivity.
European rabbits are highly social but territorial. They
prefer to live in large groups of up to ten adults if the
soil conditions and the availability of food allow. Rabbit
colonies have distinct hierarchies, especially among the
males, and usually only the higher ranking males are allowed
to mate the females.
Rabbits are a popular game animal and are harvested by
humans for food, skins, and wool (Angora Rabbits.) They are
also popular as pets, ranking third after cats and dogs in
popularity. Rabbits are also often used in medical research
and testing. On the negative side, feral rabbits have become
a serious agricultural and ecological pest in Australia and
other places that they have been introduced, especially in
areas where they have no natural predators.