2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Mammals

Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii)
Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Lagomorpha
Family: Leporidae


Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae of the order Lagomorpha, 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). There are many other species of rabbit, and these, along with cottontails, pikas and hares make up the Order Lagomorpha. Rabbits generally live for about 4-10 years.

Differences from hares

Rabbits are clearly distinguished from hares in that rabbits are altricial, having young that are born blind and hairless; all rabbits, except the cottontail rabbit, live underground in burrows or warrens. Hares are generally bigger, have longer ears and have black markings on their fur. They also live in simple nests above the ground, just as the cottontail rabbit does, and usually do not live together in groups. Also, hares are generally born with hair and are able to see.

Humans' relationship with rabbits

Humans' relationship with the European or ‘true’ rabbit was first recorded by the Phoenicians over 1,000 years BC, when they termed the Iberian Peninsula i-shfaním (literally, "the land of the hyraxes"). This phrase is pronounced absolutely identically in modern Hebrew, i (אי) meaning "island" and shafan (שפן) meaning "hyrax", shfaním (שפנים) being the plural form. Phoenicians called the local rabbits "hyraxes" because hyraxes resemble rabbits in some way, and probably were more common than rabbits at that time in their native Levant. Hyraxes, like rabbits, are not rodents. The Romans converted the phrase i-shfaním to its Latin form, Hispania, and hence the modern word "Spain".

The European Rabbit ( Oryctolagus cuniculus) is the only species of rabbit to be domesticated. All pet breeds of rabbits - such as dwarf lops, angoras, etc. - are of this species. 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 culture.

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. Rabbits can then be killed by hitting the back of their heads, a practice that lends its name to the " rabbit punch". Rabbit pelts are sometimes used as part of accessories, such as scarves or hats. Rabbits are also very good producers of manure; their urine, being high in nitrogen, makes lemon trees very productive. Their milk may also be of great medicinal (see links below) or nutritional benefit due to its high protein content.

There are a number of health issues associated with the use of rabbits for meat, one of which is Tularemia or Rabbit Fever. Another is so-called rabbit starvation, due most likely to essential amino acid deficiencies in rabbit meat and synthesis limitations in human beings.

  • "Altered rabbit milk can help cure disease" by David Pesci
  • "Rabbit milk saves babies", BBC News, 28 July 2000
  • "Human acid alpha-glucosidase from rabbit milk has therapeutic effect in mice with glycogen storage disease type II"

Domestic rabbits

A healthy indoor pet rabbit can live 6-12 years or longer. They enjoy throwing around toys and chewing on cardboard. In some instances, they can even become friends with cats and dogs. Though they are often caged in small areas, when litter trained, they can be free roaming pets similar to cats and dogs, often called 'house rabbits'. While inexpensive caging can be found, it is important to consider the safety of the rabbit when buying a cage. It is very important to provide proper ventilation for your rabbit to prevent respiratory problems resulting from ammonia build-up. All wire cages are commonly used for sanitation and ventilation purposes, as well as the safety of the animal, though it must be considered that wire mesh can be painful to a rabbit's feet, as well as cause broken toes if their nails get caught in the small holes. Some kind of solid flooring is preferable, at least on a portion of the cage floor, so the rabbit can rest its feet. Wire cages tend to be easier to clean and sanitize than wooden hutches.

Unless they are being used for breeding, female pet rabbits should be spayed, as unspayed rabbits have high incidences of ovarian cancer. There are some health and behaviour benefits from the neutering of male rabbits as well. If left intact, rabbits may spray urine in order to mark territory. Most rabbits can be aggressive towards other rabbits unless an effort is made to bond the two over time, spaying/neutering both parties may help make this process successful. It is not a good idea to simply put two rabbits together in the same cage and assume that they will get along. Even normally docile rabbits can become violent when left with an unbonded partner.

Domestic Rabbit
Domestic Rabbit

Unlike cats, rabbits cannot be declawed. Lacking pads on the bottoms of their feet, rabbits require their claws for balance, and declawing a rabbit will render it unable to stand, permanently crippling it.

Provided they are well cared for, rabbits can make friendly and playful pets. They are widely kept throughout the world, both indoors and out. Housed indoors and provided with adequate damage-proofing (especially of electrical cables and house plants that may be toxic), rabbits are relatively safe from predators, parasites, disease, and temperature extremes. Rabbits kept outdoors must be provided with shelter, this shelter may be heated in winter (but many rabbits can be kept outside with extra bedding even into temperatures below freezing), but must be shaded in summer. Domesticated rabbits are most comfortable in temperatures between 10 to 21 degrees Celsius (50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit), and cannot endure temperatures above 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) without assistance such as fans, frozen water bottles, and deep shade.

A rabbit should be given plenty of clean fresh water and pellets daily. Dark green, leafy vegetables may be fed, such as: romaine and escarole lettuces; turnip, mustard, and collard greens; kale, parsley, cilantro, dandelion and basil. Carrots and fruits should be used sparingly, about 1Tbs per pound of body weight every other day. Starchy vegetables need to be avoided. When giving vegetables to your rabbit for the first time, start with one type, then slowly introduce more, until you build up to a variety of at least 3 different kinds per serving so that the variety keeps your rabbit's interest. When choosing commercial feeds, look for those that do not have nuts, as nuts are highly fatty and cause health problems, such as fatty liver, in rabbits (nuts are in rodent food, and rabbits are not rodents). Once a rabbit is introduced to vegetables, it should be fed daily, free choice, along with timothy, brome, or oat hay. Pellets should be fed at once ounce per pound of body weight per day, as traditionally, pellets have been fed to rabbits that were meant to be eaten, and cause rabbits to grow overweight. If a rabbit gets pellets, a salt block is not necessary, as pellets are high in salt, though these blocks are not harmful to rabbits who like to have them occasionally.

Domestic rabbits should be checked daily as infections and illnesses can occur very quickly. The eyes should be clean with no crusts evident. Ears also should be clean along with any other part of the rabbit. Teeth should not be too long because if they are the rabbit cannot eat. Do not attempt to grind or clip a rabbit's teeth; one is advised to seek a veterinarian. If you go to the vet, and he or she agrees the clipping is needed, ask if the long teeth are an immediate threat to the rabbit's health; if not, try going the natural route, because once a rabbit's teeth are clipped, they'll need to be clipped on a regular basis. A rabbit's teeth can grow up to five inches a year, but must be worn down to maintain a healthy bite. While teeth clipping is an option, it should be used as a last resort, unless your rabbit has malocclusion. If you're concerned about the length of your rabbit's teeth, give it a lot of oat hay and several wooden chew toys (branch bites from PetCo or PetSmart are good for this. If you are still concerned after a week, return to the vet for the teeth clipping. A rabbit's whiskers are a major sensory organ and should never be clipped.

Safe handling of rabbits may be taught by rabbit breeders and specialists in your area. Never pick a rabbit up by its ears. When holding a rabbit, make sure all 4 feet are supported so that the rabbit does not kick out, as kicking out can result in a broken back. It is good to pick it up with a scooping motion, bringing it to rest on your forearm while allowing it to tuck its head into your elbow. When a rabbit's eyes are covered it feels safe.

In the United States, the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) is a valuable resource for both pet and commercial breeders.The ARBA recognizes 47 different breeds of domestic rabbits, the Trianta and the Mini Satin being the two most recently accepted breeds, having been accepted in 2006. In Britain, the British Rabbit Council contains valuable information as well.

Environmental problems with rabbits

Rabbits have also been a source of environmental problems when introduced into the wild by humans. 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, but most effective are diseases such as myxomatosis (myxo or mixi for short), 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, this could create a population boom, since those diseases are the major threats to the rabbits' survival. Rabbits in Australia are considered to be such a big problem that land owners are legally obligated to control them.


Rabbits and hares were formerly classified in the order Rodentia (rodent) until 1912, when they were moved into a new order Lagomorpha. This order, in addition to containing rabbits and hares, also includes the pikas.

Order Lagomorpha

  • Family Leporidae
    • Genus Pentalagus
      • Amami Rabbit/Ryūkyū Rabbit, Pentalagus furnessi
    • Genus Bunolagus
      • Bushman Rabbit, Bunolagus monticularis
    • Genus Nesolagus
      • Sumatra Short-Eared Rabbit, Nesolagus netscheri
      • Annamite Rabbit, Nesolagus timminsi
    • 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
        A French lop rabbit
        A French lop rabbit
      • 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
    • 3 other genera in family, regarded as hares, not rabbits


Rabbits 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. Coney was abandoned as a term for the animal after it was co-opted in the 19th century as a synonym for cunt . More recently, the term kit or kitten has been used to refer to a young rabbit. Young hares are called leverets, and this term is sometimes informally applied to a young rabbit as well. Male rabbits are called bucks, females does.

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