19 amazing rabbit facts
Children may love these furry, longeared bunnies, but they must be fast and alert to escape their predators
Everything you ever wanted to know about bunnies
1. Rabbits can learn to use a toilet
Just like cats, pet house rabbits can be trained to use a litter tray. In a hutch they will tend to use one corner as a toilet.
2. Rabbits were domesticated for food
The Romans kept rabbits in large, walled pens as a source of food and fur. They took these rabbits with them when they invaded Britain in 43 CE. The first people to fully domesticate rabbits are thought to have been 5th-century monks living in France. They were successful at selective breeding, changing the size, shape and colour of the rabbits they bred.
3. They are superb little diggers
European rabbits are excellent diggers, excavating the ground with their clawed front feet. Within their tunnels are burrows for sleeping in; these rabbit homes are called warrens and can extend for hundreds of metres and go deeper than five metres (16.4 feet) underground. A rabbit’s whiskers are the same width as its body, so they know if their whiskers don’t touch the side of a hole they won’t get stuck.
4. The Easter bunny started as a hare
Our much-loved story of the Easter bunny delivering eggs to children originates from German folklore. It was transported to America in the 1700s by German immigrants spreading their custom of a hare called Osterhase who judged whether children had been good or disobedient when delivering eggs at Easter.
5. A rabbit’s teeth never stop growing
And they can grow an amazing 100 millimetres (3.9 inches) every year. Constant chewing and gnawing keeps their teeth ground down, and a pet rabbit needs a high-fibre diet with plenty of hay and wooden toys to keep the length of its teeth in check.
6. They suffer from many bugs
A number of parasites can infest rabbits, including ticks, fleas, lice and mites. The deadly myxomatosis disease is spread by blood-sucking parasites, particularly fleas. It is important that pet rabbits are protected from external and internal parasites to stop them becoming ill.
7. They have an early warning system
Rabbits graze out in the open at a distance from their burrows. If one spots danger it will alert its neighbours by thumping its powerful hind legs on the ground. This is a vital survival tool for rabbits as they are hunted by a multitude of predators and shot by farmers.
8. Babies are born blind and helpless
Baby rabbits are known as kittens or kits and are born with their eyes closed and without fur. There are usually between four and eight babies in a litter, but litters of over ten regularly occur. The mother may nurse her youngsters as little as once a day, but her milk is among the richest of all mammals. After a month the kittens will be able to look after themselves, and at five to six months old they are able to have their own babies.
9. Rabbits have almost 360-degree eyesight
Rabbits have developed powerful legs to run fast and super senses to help them avoid their many predators, which include foxes, eagles, wild cats and stoats. When chased by a predator they will run to their warren, zigzagging as they go, and then hide underground until the danger has passed. Rabbits are also protected from predators thanks to their good hearing, excellent sense of smell and small blind spot in their all-around vision.
10. Their ears regulate their body temperature
Rabbits cannot sweat, so they lose heat from their body surface, particularly their ears. The size of a wild rabbit’s ears are therefore related to the climate it lives in. The Netherland dwarf rabbit has the smallest ears of the Lagomorphs at just five centimetres (two inches) long, while the ears of an English lop can grow to an incredible 81 centimetres
11. Rabbits eat their own poo
Rabbits are herbivores and most of their diet is made up of grass and other plants with low nutrition. To get the most from this diet the poo pellets that have passed through the rabbit’s gut once are eaten as they still contain vegetable matter. As a result, the remaining food inside the pellets passes through the gut a second time, giving the rabbit extra nutrition. The final droppings that are produced have been stripped of all goodness so the rabbit does not eat these.
12. They have lots of babies
A doe is capable of getting pregnant again just four days after giving birth. With up to 12 litters a year and an average of six kittens per litter, it is easy to see why rabbits are commonly associated with population explosions.
13. Not all rabbits live underground: American cottontail rabbits make a nest formed from a hollow in the earth.
14. Their powerful legs help them jump
Rabbits can jump as high as 0.6 metres (two feet) into the air and cover up to 4.5 metres (15 feet) in a single bound. When they are content they sometimes jump and spin around in the air, a behaviour known as ‘binky’. 15. The total global rabbit population is estimated at 709 million, more than half of which are located in
North America. 16. Rabbits are sociable animals and live in large groups. Some of the colony will be more dominant and get the best choice of food. 17. 49 unique domestic
rabbit breeds are recognised in America, with
many more cross-breeds. 18. A rabbit’s heart beats between 120–150 times a minute, twice the speed of an average human heart and around six- to seven-times faster than the heart rate of
19. By the 19th century rabbits were being kept and bred as show animals rather than for their meat and fur.