While an extra large outdoor rabbit hutch may be a great place for newborn rabbit babies, many people still call them by the wrong name. Contrary to popular belief, just-born rabbits are not called bunnies but rather kittens or kits, therefore leading to the many cat comparisons.
A rabbit introduction
Rabbits are small mammals with short, fluffy tails, cute whiskers and, above all, distinctive long ears. Around the world, there are more than 30 different species and while they have adapted to live in pretty different environments, their representatives still have many things in common.
While originally only found in Europe and Africa, rabbits can now be found all over the world except for parts of South America, the West Indies, Madagascar, and most of the islands located southeast of Asia. Even though they were originally absent from places like South America and Australia, they have been steadily introduced there over the last centuries.
Rabbits are often mistaken for hares and while they are in the same taxonomic (classification) family, called Leporidae, they are still in different genera. Overall, there are 11 genera within the family but ‘true hares’ are only the ones from the genus called Lepus, while all the others are distinctly identified as rabbits.
Furthermore, a classification by the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) recognizes 40 official rabbit breeds.
When it comes to size, rabbits are some of the most diverse creatures in the world, with some of them being about the size of a cat while larger species can even grow to be as big as a small child.
Small ones, such as pygmy rabbits, can be as little as eight inches and weigh even less than a pound, meaning you’ve really got to pay attention around your house when you have such a small companion. Larger bunnies can grow to 20 inches and more than ten pounds in weight.
The largest breeds out there are the checkered giant, the Flemish giant, and the giant papillon. According to the Guinness World Records, the world’s longest rabbit was marked as being Darius, a four feet and four inches Continental which also weighs an astounding 49 pounds.
Among the smaller breeds, we can find the Britannia Petite, the Netherland dwarf, and the Himalayan, the last one only amounting to a very cute maximum of 4.5 pounds.
Out in the wild, rabbits are extremely social creatures and live in large groups called colonies. Their social skills are also one of the reasons why they make great pets because they keep this quality even in captivity.
The busiest time of the day for them is at dusk and dawn because the low light allows them to hide from predators and venture out in search of food. Speaking of predators, there are several creatures out there which enjoy a bunny menu, including owls, hawks, wild dogs, feral cats, and even ground squirrels.
It’s quite possible that the long legs and high-speed running that the rabbits are so famous for are evolutionary adaptations made to help them elude the plethora of things which enjoy eating them. However, few people know that the rabbit’s eyes can cover 360 degrees and this allows them to look behind without turning their heads.
Our long-eared friend can also be pretty crafty and quick. For instance, a cottontail rabbit will run in a zigzag pattern at a speed of up to 18 mph to get away from a predator. Their ears are not only fine-tuned in order to better hear predators but they also allow them to stay cool in hot climates, releasing extra body heat.
Domestic rabbits lose some of their fine-tuned qualities which are specially adapted for the wilds. For instance, pet rabbits need a regulated environment to be protected against things like heat exhaustion or hypothermia. This is a problem wild bunnies don’t have since they can make their home in various temperature extremes such as woods, deserts, tundra, and wetlands.
These little guys are herbivores which means they have a plant-based diet and do not eat meat. Their diet choice includes grasses, clover, as well as some plants such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts. However, rabbits are also very opportunistic when it comes to their feeding so they won’t say no to fruits, seeds, roots, or even tree bark.
Rabbits and their offspring
Rabbits are famous around the world for their insatiable reproductive habits and for good reason. Each year, they repeat their breeding cycle three to four times and this is because roughly fifteen percent of baby rabbits make it to their first birthday party, according to the Animal Diversity Web (ADW).
Therefore, to ensure the future of the species, rabbits simply have more babies. Each pregnancy will typically produce between three and eight babies called kittens or kits. Keep in mind that the term ‘bunny’ is just an affectionate name for a rabbit, be it a young one or a fully grown adult.
After four to five weeks of life, a kitten is ready to care for itself and in about two or three months it will be ready to start its own family. Talk about growing up fast! Therefore, if an area is lacking in natural predators, rabbits can overflow it pretty quickly.
Protecting the rabbits
The domestic or European rabbit is considered almost within threatened range by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This species is found all over the world and scientists believe most of its representatives are descendants of the domestic rabbits that were released into the wild.
It is native to the Iberian Peninsula which is shared by Spain and Portugal and, in that area, their numbers have declined as much as 80 percent compared to the ones from 1975 due to habitat loss, hunting, and even diseases.
The riverine rabbit of South Africa is another endangered species, with ten subpopulations and none of them estimated to have more than fifty individuals at this point due to the expansion of countries and loss of habitat.
Rabbits or hares?
As we said, both rabbits and hares are members of the Leporidae family but each species comes with its own characteristics. Similar traits that they both share are the long ears, powerful back legs, and a divided upper lip.
However, hares are distinctly larger than rabbits and instead of creating burrows by tunneling into the ground, they opt to make nests in the grass. This type of exposed nesting hints at another crucial difference and that is the moment when they are born.
Contrary to rabbits, which are born naked, blind, and in a crucial need of their parents, hares are born with their eyes wide open and the fur already grown-in, which means they don’t require a lot of parental guidance.
The two are also different when it comes to diet choices. If the rabbits prefer soft stems, vegetables, and grass, hares enjoy more hard food such as bark, buds, and small twigs. Also, hares are mostly individual creatures, only coming together for mating purposes. As such, there is almost no fighting between them, making them very different from rabbits.
One last significant difference lies in their newborns’ name. If, as we said, baby rabbits are called kittens, newborn hares go by the name of leverets. In fact, if you thought the kittens were independent because they can live by themselves after a few weeks of life, leverets can live on their own one hour after being born!
Therefore, their mothers feel completely secure in cutting off the proverbial parental support and hopping away soon after their baby is born. By contrast, rabbit moms are much more careful and protective of their children.
They will line a nest with items such as bark, soft stems, and grass, placing a layer of hair plucked from their own bodies over them. When the mother has to leave the nest, she will not do so until covering the bunnies with more hair and dead plants to keep them warm as well as out of the sight of any potential predators.