1 any of various burrowing animals of the family Leporidae having long ears and short tails; some domesticated and raised for pets or food [syn: coney, cony]
2 the fur of a rabbit [syn: lapin]
3 flesh of any of various rabbits or hares (wild or domesticated) eaten as food [syn: hare] v : hunt rabbits
Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae of the order Lagomorpha, found in several parts of the world. There are seven different genera in the family classified as rabbits, including the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), Cottontail rabbit (genus Sylvilagus; 13 species), and the Amami rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi, endangered species on Amami Ōshima, Japan). There are many other species of rabbit, and these, along with pikas and hares, make up the order Lagomorpha.
Location and habitatRabbits are ground dwellers that live in environments ranging from desert to tropical forest and wetland. Their natural geographic range encompasses the middle latitudes of the Western Hemisphere. In the Eastern Hemisphere rabbits are found in Europe, portions of Central and Southern Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Sumatra, and Japan. The European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) has been introduced to many locations around the world, and all breeds of domestic rabbit originate from the European.
Cecal pelletsRabbits are hindgut digesters. This means that most of their digestion takes place in their large intestine and cecum. In rabbits, the cecum is approximately 10 times bigger than the stomach, and it, along with the large intestine, makes up roughly 40% of the rabbit's digestive tract. Cecotropes, sometimes called "night feces", come from the cecum and are high in minerals, vitamins and proteins that are necessary to the rabbit's health. Rabbits eat these in order to meet their nutritional requirements. This process allows rabbits to extract the necessary nutrients from their food.
Diet and eating habitsRabbits are herbivores who feed by grazing on grass, forbs, and leafy weeds. In addition, their diet contains large amounts of cellulose, which is hard to digest. Rabbits solve this problem by passing two distinct types of feces: hard droppings and soft black viscous pellets, the latter of which are immediately eaten. Rabbits reingest their own droppings (rather than chewing the cud as do cows and many other herbivores) in order to fully digest their food and extract sufficient nutrients.
Rabbits graze heavily and rapidly for roughly the first half hour of a grazing period (usually in the late afternoon), followed by about half an hour of more selective feeding. In this time, the rabbit will also excrete many hard faecal pellets, being waste pellets that will not be reingested. If the environment is relatively non-threatening, the rabbit will remain outdoors for many hours, grazing at intervals. While out of the burrow, the rabbit will occasionally reingest its soft, partially digested pellets; this is rarely observed, since the pellets are reingested as they are produced. Reingestion is most common within the burrow between 8 o'clock in the morning and 5 o'clock in the evening, being carried out intermittently within that period.
Hard pellets are made up of hay-like fragments of plant cuticle and stalk, being the final waste product after redigestion of soft pellets. These are only released outside the burrow and are not reingested. Soft pellets are usually produced several hours after grazing, after the hard pellets have all been excreted. They are made up of micro-organisms and undigested plant cell walls.
The chewed plant material collects in the large cecum, a secondary chamber between the large and small intestine containing large quantities of symbiotic bacteria that help with the digestion of cellulose and also produce certain B vitamins. The pellets are about 56% bacteria by dry weight, largely accounting for the pellets being 24.4% protein on average. These pellets remain intact for up to six hours in the stomach, the bacteria within continuing to digest the plant carbohydrates. The soft feces form here and contain up to five times the vitamins of hard feces. After being excreted, they are eaten whole by the rabbit and redigested in a special part of the stomach. This double-digestion process enables rabbits to utilize nutrients that they may have missed during the first passage through the gut and thus ensures that maximum nutrition is derived from the food they eat.
BehaviorWhile the European rabbit is the best-known species, it is probably also the least typical, as there is considerable variability in the natural history of rabbits. Many rabbits dig burrows, but cottontails and hispid hares do not. The European rabbit constructs the most extensive burrow systems, called warrens. Nonburrowing rabbits make surface nests called forms, generally under dense protective cover. The European rabbit occupies open landscapes such as fields, parks, and gardens, although it has colonized habitats from stony deserts to subalpine valleys. It is the most social rabbit, sometimes forming groups in warrens of up to 20 individuals. However, even in European rabbits social behaviour can be quite flexible, depending on habitat and other local conditions, so that at times the primary social unit is a territorial breeding pair. Most rabbits are relatively solitary and sometimes territorial, coming together only to breed or occasionally to forage in small groups. During territorial disputes rabbits will sometimes “box,” using their front limbs. Rabbits are active throughout the year; no species is known to hibernate. Rabbits are generally nocturnal, and they also are relatively silent. Other than loud screams when frightened or caught by a predator, the only auditory signal known for most species is a loud foot thump made to indicate alarm or aggression. Notable exceptions are the Amami rabbit and the volcano rabbit of Mexico, which both utter a variety of calls. . In addition, females exhibit induced ovulation, their ovaries releasing eggs in response to copulation rather than according to a regular cycle. They can also undergo postpartum estrus, conceiving immediately after a litter has been born. Another is so-called rabbit starvation, due most likely to essential amino acid deficiencies in rabbit meat and synthesis limitations in human beings.
Rabbits are a favorite food item of large pythons, such as Burmese pythons and reticulated pythons, both in the wild, as well as pet pythons. A typical diet for example, for a pet Burmese python, is a rabbit once a week.
Rabbit pelts are sometimes used in for clothing and accessories, such as scarves or hats. Rabbits are very good producers of manure; additionally, their urine, being high in nitrogen, makes lemon trees very productive. Their milk may also be of great medicinal or nutritional benefit due to its high protein content (see links below).
Environmental problemsseealso Rabbits in Australia Rabbits have been a source of environmental problems when introduced into the wild by humans. As a result of their appetites, and the rate at which they breed, wild rabbit depredation can be problematic for agriculture. Gassing, barriers (fences), shooting, snaring, and ferreting have been used to control rabbit populations, but the most effective measures are diseases such as myxomatosis (myxo or mixi, colloquially) and calicivirus. In Europe, where rabbits are farmed on a large scale, they are protected against myxomatosis and calicivirus with a genetically modified virus. The virus was developed in Spain, and is beneficial to rabbit farmers. If it were to make its way into wild populations in areas such as Australia, it could create a population boom, as those diseases are the most serious threats to rabbit survival. Rabbits in Australia are considered to be such a pest that land owners are legally obliged to control them.
ClassificationsRabbits and hares were formerly classified in the order Rodentia (rodent) until 1912, when they were moved into a new order Lagomorpha. This order also includes pikas.
- Family Leporidae
- Genus Pentalagus
- Amami Rabbit/Ryūkyū Rabbit, Pentalagus furnessi
- Genus Bunolagus
- Bushman Rabbit, Bunolagus monticularis
- Genus Nesolagus
- Genus Romerolagus
- Volcano Rabbit, Romerolagus diazi
- Genus Brachylagus
- Pygmy Rabbit, Brachylagus idahoensis
- Genus Sylvilagus
- 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 floridanus
- 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
- Genus Oryctolagus
- European Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus
- Genus Poelagus
- Central African Rabbit, Poelagus marjorita
- Three other genera in family, regarded as hares, not rabbits
- Genus Pentalagus
NamingRabbits are often known affectionately by the pet name bunny or bunny rabbit, especially when referring to young, domesticated rabbits. Originally, the word for an adult rabbit was coney or cony, while rabbit referred to the young animals. More recently, the term kit has been used to refer to a young rabbit. A group of young rabbits is referred to as a kindle. Young hares are called leverets, and this term is sometimes informally applied to any young rabbit. Male rabbits are called bucks and females does. A group of rabbits or hares is often called a fluffle in parts of Northern Canada.
Rabbits in culture and literatureseealso List of fictional rabbits Rabbits are often used as a symbol of fertility or rebirth, and have long been associated with spring and Easter as the Easter Bunny. The species' role as a prey animal also lends itself as a symbol of innocence, another Easter connotation. Additionally, rabbits are often used as symbols of playful sexuality, which also relates to the human perception of innocence, as well as its reputation as a prolific breeder.
Folklore and mythologyThe rabbit often appears in folklore as the trickster archetype, as he uses his cunning to outwit his enemies.
- In Chinese literature, rabbits accompany Chang'e on the Moon. Also associated with the Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year), rabbits are also one of the twelve celestial animals in the Chinese Zodiac for the Chinese calendar. It is interesting to note that the Vietnamese lunar new year replaced the rabbit with a cat in their calendar, as rabbits did not inhabit Vietnam.
- In Japanese tradition, rabbits live on the Moon where they make mochi, the popular snack of mashed sticky rice. This comes from interpreting the pattern of dark patches on the moon as a rabbit standing on tiptoes on the left pounding on an usu, a Japanese mortar (See also: Moon rabbit). A popular culture manifestation of this tradition can be found in the character title character of Sailor Moon, whose name is Usagi Tsukino, a Japanese pun on the words "rabbit of the moon."
- A Korean myth similar to the Japanese counterpart also presents rabbits living on the moon making rice cakes (Tteok in Korean).
- A Vietnamese mythological story portrays the rabbit of innocence and youthfulness. The Gods of the myth are shown to be hunting and killing rabbits to show off their power.
- In Central Africa "Kalulu" the rabbit is widely known as a tricky character, getting the better of bargains.
- In Jewish folklore, rabbits (shfanim) are associated with cowardice.
On the Isle of Portland in Dorset, UK, the rabbit is said to be unlucky and speaking its name can cause upset with older residents. This is thought to date back to early times in the quarrying industry, where piles of extracted stone (not fit for sale) were built into tall rough walls (to save space) directly behind the working quarry face; the rabbit's natural tendency to burrow would weaken these "walls" and cause collapse, often resulting in injuries or even death.
The name rabbit is often substituted with words such as “long ears” or “underground mutton”, so as not to have to say the actual word and bring bad luck to oneself. It is said that a public house (on the island) can be cleared of people by calling out the word rabbit and while this was very true in the past, it has gradually become more fable than fact over the past 50 years.
Other fictional rabbitsThe rabbit as trickster appears in American popular culture; for example the Br'er Rabbit character from African-American folktales and Disney animation; and the Warner Brothers cartoon character Bugs Bunny. Anthropomorphized rabbits have appeared in a host of works of film, literature, and technology, notably the White Rabbit and the March Hare in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; in the popular novel Watership Down, by Richard Adams(which has also been made into a movie) and in Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit stories. Rabbits are also the subject of one of the first children's stories The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, as well as the Little Golden Books story "The Lively LIttle Rabbit". They also appear as Rabbids in the Ubisoft game Rayman Raving Rabbids and Rayman Raving Rabbids 2. In the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there is the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog which is killed by the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Rabbits are featured in both The Goodies episodes (Invasion of the Moon Creatures and Animals). The Pokémon franchise has also released two new rabbit Pokémon, Buneary and its evolution Lopunny. The Sonic the Hedgehog video game series features the character Cream the Rabbit, daughter to Vanilla the Rabbit.
Urban legendsIt was commonly believed that pregnancy tests were based on the idea that a rabbit would die if injected with a pregnant woman's urine. This is not true. However, in the 1920s it was discovered that if the urine contained the hCG, a hormone found in the bodies of pregnant women, the rabbit would display ovarian changes. The rabbit would then 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 killing the animal. A similar test involved injecting Xenopus frogs to make them lay eggs, but animal assays for pregnancy have been made obsolete by faster, cheaper, and simpler modern methods.
- American Rabbit Breeders Association an organization which promotes all phases of rabbit keeping.
- House Rabbit Society an activist organization which promotes keeping rabbits indoors.
- World Rabbit Science Association an international rabbit-health science-based organization.
- RabbitShows.com an informational site on the hobby of showing rabbits.
- The (mostly) silent language of rabbits
rabbit in Arabic: أرنب
rabbit in Welsh: Cwningen
rabbit in German: Kaninchen
rabbit in Modern Greek (1453-): Κουνέλι
rabbit in Spanish: Conejo
rabbit in Esperanto: Kuniklo
rabbit in Persian: خرگوش
rabbit in French: Lapin
rabbit in Inuktitut: ᐅᑲᓕᐊᑦᓯᐊᖅ/ukaliatsiaq
rabbit in Italian: Coniglio
rabbit in Latin: Cuniculus
rabbit in Malay (macrolanguage): Arnab
rabbit in Dutch: Konijn (dier)
rabbit in Japanese: ウサギ
rabbit in Polish: Królik
rabbit in Portuguese: Coelho
rabbit in Russian: Кролики
rabbit in Simple English: Rabbit
rabbit in Serbian: Зец
rabbit in Finnish: Kaniini
rabbit in Swedish: Kaniner
rabbit in Tagalog: Kuneho
rabbit in Tamil: முயல்
rabbit in Thai: กระต่าย
rabbit in Chinese: 兔