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THE RABBIT

Roger the Rabbit , Oryctolagus cuniculus

The Rabbit has a special relationship with us humans in the U.K. The introduced spices crosses many boundaries, it’s a loved domestic pet , cute wild animal , a commonly used food source , agricultural pest and is woven throughout our culture and folklore. Where would the modern day Easter celebration be without the Easter bunnies and it’s also threaded throughout our literature, Peter Rabbit and Watership down to name but a few. At one point it was deemed to be lucky to carry a rabbits foot ( not so lucky if it was your foot ! )

Bunny facts – Rabbits can move at speeds of around 18mph. Couple that with their ability to jump between 3-4ft high and over 9ft horizontally 

The Rabbit was introduced to the U.K. by the Romans in the 1st century as a source of food and fur. Some time after this a number of animals escaped to form a wild breeding population , the Rabbit is now accepted as a indigenous species. Rabbits are now widespread throughout Britain and Ireland, but are absent from A few smaller Scottish islands. Rabbits can be found almost anywhere they can burrow with the most suitable areas being banks , woodlands edge and hedgerow. The rabbit has long ears without black tips , about the same length as it’s head , and long hind legs; its colouring is sandy and less reddish than brown hare.  The eyes are brown and lighter in colour than it’s cousin the Hare. Body length is around 40cm and they weigh between 1.2 – 2kg , the male is usually heavier and larger compared to the female.

Bunny facts –  Rabbits are born with their eyes shut. Once their eyes open, they have 360-degree vision meaning it’s difficult to sneak up on a rabbit. They do have a small blind spot directly in front of their face.

The random network of tunnels, dens and bolt holes is known as a warren. Tunnelling is undertaken predominantly by the female. The depth of the burrows depends on the nature of the soil and the height of the water table. Large warrens usually imply a high population of rabbits. Rabbits are normally nocturnal but will come out in daylight if undisturbed.  Social groups vary from a single pair to up to 30 individual rabbits using the same warren. In large groups the  most dominant males, known as bucks, have priority of access to females, known as does. The most dominant does have access to the best nest sites. Bucks and does seldom fight with each other. Competition between does for nest sites can lead to serious injuries and death.

Bunny facts –  People  think that rabbits are nocturnal animals but they’re not. They are crepuscular  which means they’re most active at dusk and dawn.

Rabbits really do “breed like rabbits”. The breeding season is mainly from January to August, producing one litter of 3-7 young per month. The doe constructs a nest inside a burrow from grass bedding and lines it with soft fur from her chest and belly. The young kittens are born blind, deaf and almost hairless. Their eyes open at 10 days, they begin to appear at the burrow entrance at 18 days and are weaned at 21-25 days. Bucks are able to mate at 4 months, does at 3.5 months. Rabbits don’t often live for more than 3 years. Over 90% die in the first year of life, and most of these in the first three months.

Rabbits eat a wide range of plants including grasses, cereal crops, root vegetables and young shoots of meadow plants. They will eat tree bark especially when snow covers other food sources. The Rabbit is also a prey species and is an important source of food for most carnivores, including badgers, buzzards and weasels. Rabbits of all ages are taken by foxes, cats, stoats and polecats.

Bunny facts – As part of their natural diet, rabbits eat a specific kind of their own droppings called caecotrophs. These are full of protein and vitamin B, and the rabbit eats them to maximise the nutrients they get from their food.

 Rabbits have no legal protection in Britain and landowners control their numbers to prevent them damaging neighbours’ land. In the middle of the 19th century rabbit numbers increased dramatically, becoming major agricultural pests. Their increase was due to the large scale planting of hedgerows, providing shelter and burrows in the loosened soil. New agricultural technology increased cereal production, increasing their food supply, and large numbers of the rabbits’ natural predators were killed by gamekeepers on new shooting estates. By 1950 rabbits destroyed approximately £50 million worth of crops per year, but the virus myxomatosis appeared, and within 2 years 99% of the population had died. Rabbits are developing resistance, though outbreaks still occur. The population has largely recovered and rabbit damage is estimated at over £100 million/year.

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7 replies »

  1. Do foxes eat baby rabbits? They obviously don’t have enough natural enemies. It is very strange that we don’t have wild rabbits in Denmark, not even in Jutland, where there is a border to Germany that is swarming with rabbits. Maybe they heard the news that immigrants are not welcome … 😉 We do have hares though.

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