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October 2020’s Animal Of The Month – Rabbits

By October 30, 2020 No Comments

If you were following us on Twitter @ExoticPetVets, you will have seen that our very last tweet for Animal of the Month was about bunny binkies! We wanted to end our time with rabbits as our featured creature for October on a happy – or should we say hoppy – note. If you missed any of our tweets about these popular pets, here is a summary. Did you know?:

  • It’s well known that domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) come in all sorts of different shapes, sizes and colours. But did you know that they are all descendants of the European rabbit?
  • The European rabbit was initially found in northwestern Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. It wasn’t until about 2,000 years ago that wild European rabbits spread into western Europe as a result of human activity and the rabbits’ own adaptability.
  • Archaeologists from the University of Oxford recently investigated whether they could pinpoint exactly when humans began domesticating rabbits from the wild European rabbit, but they could not narrow it down to a single event or time frame.
  • Based on archaeological and genetic evidence, the Oxford researchers concluded that the domestication of rabbits resulted through the evolution of social trends over time.
  • In the wild, rabbits live in a wide variety of environments, including (but not limited to) meadows, forests and grasslands.
  • As humans encroach on their habitats, wild rabbits have adjusted to living in urban areas and can be spotted in places such as golf courses, in residential neighbourhoods and in parks.
  • Unfortunately, rabbits are also found in urban areas because people often dump their unwanted pets outside – which is something people should NEVER do! Abandoned pet rabbits are vulnerable to starvation, disease, predators and vehicles.
  • Wild rabbits are found in almost every corner of the world – including Australia, where they are not native. The feral rabbits in Australia are an invasive species and are wreaking havoc on the country’s ecology and economy.
  • The New South Wales government says rabbits first landed on Australia’s shores in 1788 via the First Fleet, which was the first 11 ships bringing convicts from Britain, Scotland, Wales and Ireland to colonize Australia.
  • The New South Wales government says the rabbits were brought to Australia as a food source, but the National Museum of Australia notes those rabbits were never released into the wild.
  • The root of Australia’s feral rabbit population appears to be Thomas Austin, who was a wealthy settler in the state of Victoria. A relative in England sent him 13 European rabbits. Austin let them loose on his estate so he could hunt them.
  • Within 50 years of their release on Thomas Austin’s estate, feral European rabbits were found all over Australia thanks to plentiful food sources and few natural predators.
  • The current feral rabbit population in Australia is estimated to be 150,000,000 – 200,000,000. It’s also estimated that they cost the country’s economy in excess of $200,000,000 per year.
  • The sheer volume of feral rabbits in Australia is contributing to the loss of native plants, which in turn deprives the animal species who eat them. This overgrazing also causes soil erosion which impacts agricultural production and water quality.
  • Rabbits are well known for their ability to breed prolifically; hence, the idiom “breed like rabbits.”
  • The age of sexual maturity among domestic breeds depends on the size of the rabbit with larger breeds taking longer to reach sexual maturity than smaller ones.
  • Gestation in rabbits lasts about a month and a female can get pregnant again as soon as 24 hours after giving birth.
  • Baby rabbits are known as kittens or kits and domestic rabbit litter sizes can vary from one kit to more than 12.
  • When they are born, rabbit kits are blind, deaf and hairless. Fur starts to grow after a few days, while it takes about a week for them to develop the ability to regulate their body temperature. They open their ears and eyes when they’re about 10 days old.
  • Rabbits in the wild don’t live very long – usually about one year; two years at the most. Rabbits in captivity typically live to be around eight years of age on average. Some smaller domestic breeds, such as dwarf rabbits can live as long as 14 years.
  • The Guinness Book of Records declared Mick, an agouti rabbit, to be the world’s oldest living rabbit just after he turned 16 on February 9, 2019. Mick lived with his family in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn. He passed away on May 23, 2019.
  • Our own former clinic rabbit, Gilbert, turned 13 this past May. He was adopted by our Dr. Yee and enjoys a birthday party every year.
  • The physical appearance of rabbits is well known, with their large ears arguably being their most defining characteristic.
  • When upright, rabbits’ ears are like their own personal satellite dishes. They are slightly curved and can move independently of each other and rotate 270 degrees, enabling them to hear sounds from distances up to 3 kms away.
  • Like cats, rabbits move their ears to communicate with one another. Rabbits also can’t sweat so their ears are also used to help regulate their body temperature.
  • In addition to their long ears, rabbits are also famous for having small fluffy white tails that are often compared to cotton balls.
  • On the surface, it doesn’t seem to make sense for rabbits – who have a long list of predators – to have a bright white tail which stands out against their camouflaged fur, making them more visible. But there is an evolutionary reason for this.
  • German evolutionary biologist Dirk Semmann of the University of Göttingen studied this puzzling contradiction and found that rabbits use their bright white tails to confuse and escape from predators.
  • When rabbits flee predators, they zig-zag and make sharp turns. Semmann’s study, which was presented in 2013, found that the pursuing predators will focus on the rabbits’ bright white tail instead of the body.
  • Semmann’s study found that when a fleeing rabbit makes a sharp turn predators may briefly lose sight of the tail, forcing them to waste time refocusing on the rabbit’s body which has darker and more camouflaged fur.
  • Large hind legs and feet are another defining physical characteristic of rabbits, who use their powerful legs to move about by hopping.
  • The four toes on rabbits’ hind feet are webbed, which helps keep them from spreading apart when they hop.
  • Their powerful hind legs and feet also help rabbits jump for joy – literally! Rabbits express their happiness with a unique move called a “binky,” which is when they jump and flick their feet and twist their heads.

This is the third time that we have featured rabbits as our Animal of the Month. Check out our blog posts from January 2014 and January 2017 to see what we tweeted about rabbits the first two times they were in the spotlight!

Lifelearn Admin

Lifelearn Admin

S. Fontana is a LifeLearn author.

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