European Rabbit Fact File
Wild 9 years
Captive 9 years
European rabbits are as their name suggests originally from Europe but their range has been expanded to every continent except for Antarctica due to their popularity for hunting, fur and food.
They live in large colonies of up to 100 members which live in underground burrows known as warrens. These groups emerge at night to forage for grasses, plants and bark.
Their large ears allow them to hear predators while the eyes are located on top of the head to allow them to see threats around almost their entire body.
Despite being seen as an invasive pest in most areas they are threatened in their native range through the Iberian peninsula. The primary threat comes from the release of the disease myxomatosis to control the introduced predators.
Learn more about these marvellous mammals by reading on below.
The European rabbit is covered with soft fur across its body which is highly variable. Wild type rabbits tend to have black and brown fur across the upper body with paler fur underneath. Around the eye and and between the shoulders is a patch of lighter fur.
Sticking up on top of the head are a pair of large ears. These are covered by fur across the back which is black at the tip. Inside of the ear the bare, pink skin is visible.
Through selective breeding as many as 60 domestic breeds of rabbit have been bred each with different in coloration or size.
Their sharp teeth continue to grow throughout their life.
The eyes of a European rabbit are set high on the head and give them near 360° panoramic vision which allows them to spot predators with ease.
An average European rabbit measures 35-45cm (14-18in) long with a weight of 1 2.5kg (2.25-5.5lbs).
At the end of the body a short tail adds up to 8cm (3.25in) to their length.
Rabbits can be differentiated from the hare, with which they share a similar appearance, due to the hares much larger size.
European rabbits are herbivores. They feed on grasses, plants, twigs and bark.
Europe is the native home of the European rabbit. Here they were mostly restricted to the Iberian peninsula and parts of southern France.
They have since spread to every continent except Antarctica through introductions mainly for hunting. Australia has been one of the worst affected continents due to a lack of predators to keep the population controlled.
A further 800 islands have been colonized by the species following introductions.
From 24 rabbits introduced in 1859 the Australian population has since grown to over 600 million.
Their expansion across the globe has been possible due to their ability to live in almost all habitats including meadows, forests, grasslands, wetlands and deserts.
In parts of their range they will live alongside humans in the suburbs.
A group of rabbits will inhabit a large underground burrow system known as the warren. Each warren can have hundreds of entrances.
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They are capable of producing young year round.
Males will create a dominance hierarchy with dominant males having priority when mating. Despite this they are polygamous and can mate with multiple partners across their lifetime.
Females give birth after a gestation period of 28-33 days. In good conditions they may have up to 8 young but 5 is the average. Young are known as kittens or bunnies.
At birth the young are helpless with their eyes closed and only a light covering of fur. To keep them warm they are raised in a nursery chamber within the den which is lined with dry grass, moss and fur she plucks from the belly.
She will visit the nest to feed them milk though may only be present for a few minutes each day. Weaning occurs at 4 weeks old.
Each year a single female rabbit may produce as many as 45 young across six litters if conditions are favorable. Their reproductive success is aided by induced ovulation where eggs only release due to copulation.
Despite the ability to live for up to 9 years as many as 90% of newborns do not survive the first year.
Sexual maturity is reached by 8 months old.
Rabbits live in large groups which may include hundreds of individuals.
Within the colony their is a strict dominance hierarchy with higher ranked males gaining preferential access to the females.
European rabbits are primarily nocturnal when they will emerge to feed.
When moving around they can travel quickly by hopping. The strong back legs end with feet with thick padding which dampens the shock of these rapid hops.
Rabbits are mostly silent communicating with one another through scent and touch. When threatened they can produce a scream. If a threat approaches they thump to warn others.
Predators and Threats
European rabbits are preyed upon by birds of prey such as the Spanish Imperial eagle and Iberian lynx. Both of these species are threatened and declines in rabbit populations have increased this decline.
Other natural predators include foxes. In Australia they are preyed upon by goannas, dingoes and large birds of prey.
When threatened they bolt towards their burrow where they will seek shelter.
Rabbits have previously been used for hunting and this caused their release in a number of areas. This has resulted in the implementation of control measures. One of the most effective measures was the release of myxomatosis in the 1950s. This disease decimated introduced populations in France but soon spread to their natural range where it has caused further population decline.
Myxomatosis was found in South American rabbits which show a tolerance to the disease.
This control effort is largely unsuccessful in New Zealand as the insect vectors to transmit it are not present.
Some are raised in captivity for their fur while others are used for food.
The domestic rabbits commonly kept around the world as pets all descend from the European rabbit.
European rabbits may also be known as bunnies. This name is primarily used for domestic animals. Another name is the old world rabbit.
Male rabbits are called bucks while females are known as does.
The European rabbit is the only species in its genus, Oryctolagus.
Marie-Lan Taÿ Pamart, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Bene Riobó, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Johan Hansson, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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