Rabbit

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Rabbit
Temporal range: Late EoceneHolocene, 53–0 Ma
A small brown rabbit sat on the dirt in a forest. Its ears are small and alert and the tip of its nose, part of its chest and one of its feet are white.
European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
Scientific classificationEdit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Lagomorpha
Family: Leporidae
Included genera

Rabbits, also known as bunnies or bunny rabbits, are small mammals in the family Leporidae (which also includes the hares), which is in the order Lagomorpha (which also includes the pikas). Oryctolagus cuniculus is the European rabbit, including its descendants, the world's 305 breeds[1] of domestic rabbit. Sylvilagus includes 13 wild rabbit species, among them the seven types of cottontail. The European rabbit, which has been introduced on every continent except Antarctica, is familiar throughout the world as a wild prey animal, a domesticated form of livestock and a pet. With its widespread effect on ecologies and cultures, in many areas of the world, the rabbit is a part of daily life – as food, clothing, a companion, and a source of artistic inspiration.

Although once considered rodents, lagomorphs diverged earlier and have a number of traits rodents lack, including two extra incisors.

Terminology and etymology

A male rabbit is called a buck; a female is called a doe. An older term for an adult rabbit used until the 18th century is coney (derived ultimately from the Latin cuniculus), while rabbit once referred only to the young animals.[2] Another term for a young rabbit is bunny, though this term is often applied informally (particularly by children) to rabbits generally, especially domestic ones. More recently, the term kit or kitten has been used to refer to a young rabbit.

A group of rabbits is known as a colony or nest (or, occasionally, a warren, though this more commonly refers to where the rabbits live).[3] A group of baby rabbits produced from a single mating is referred to as a litter[4] and a group of domestic rabbits living together is sometimes called a herd.[5]

The word rabbit itself derives from the Middle English rabet, a borrowing from the Walloon robète, which was a diminutive of the French or Middle Dutch robbe.[6]

Taxonomy

Rabbits and hares were formerly classified in the order Rodentia (rodent) until 1912, when they were moved into a new order, Lagomorpha (which also includes pikas). Below are some of the genera and species of the rabbit.

Differences from hares

Hare
Johann Daniel Meyer (1748)
Rabbit
Johann Daniel Meyer (1748)

The term rabbit is typically used for all Leporidae species excluding the genus Lepus. Members of that genus are instead known as hares or jackrabbits.

Lepus species are precocial, born relatively mature and mobile with hair and good vision, while rabbit species are altricial, born hairless and blind. Hares and some rabbits live a relatively solitary life in a simple nest above the ground, while other rabbits live in social groups in burrows, which are grouped together to form warrens. Hares are generally larger than rabbits, with ears that are more elongated, and with hind legs that are larger and longer. Descendants of the European rabbit are commonly bred as livestock and kept as pets, whereas no hares have been domesticated – the breed called the Belgian hare is actually a domestic rabbit which has been selectively bred to resemble a hare.

Domestication

Rabbits have long been domesticated. The European rabbit has been widely kept as livestock, starting in ancient Rome. Selective breeding, which began in the Middle Ages, has generated a wide variety of rabbit breeds, of which many (since the early 19th century) are also kept as pets.[7] Some strains of rabbit have been bred specifically as research subjects.

As livestock, rabbits are bred for their meat and fur. The earliest breeds were important sources of meat, and so became larger than wild rabbits, but domestic rabbits in modern times range in size from dwarf to giant. Rabbit fur, prized for its softness, can be found in a broad range of coat colors and patterns, as well as lengths. The Angora rabbit breed, for example, was developed for its long, silky fur, which is often hand-spun into yarn. Other domestic rabbit breeds have been developed primarily for the commercial fur trade, including the Rex, which has a short plush coat.

Biology

Wax models showing the development of the rabbit heart

Evolution

Because the rabbit's epiglottis is engaged over the soft palate except when swallowing, the rabbit is an obligate nasal breather. Rabbits have two sets of incisor teeth, one behind the other. This way they can be distinguished from rodents, with which they are often confused.[8] Another difference is that for rabbits, all of their teeth continue to grow, where as for most rodents, only their incisors continue to grow. Carl Linnaeus originally grouped rabbits and rodents under the class Glires; later, they were separated as the scientific consensus is that many of their similarities were a result of convergent evolution. Recent DNA analysis and the discovery of a common ancestor has supported the view that they share a common lineage, so rabbits and rodents are now often grouped together in the superorder Glires.[9]

Morphology

Skeleton of the rabbit

Since speed and agility are a rabbit's main defenses against predators (including the swift fox), rabbits have large hind leg bones and well-developed musculature. Though plantigrade at rest, rabbits are on their toes while running, assuming a more digitigrade posture. Rabbits use their strong claws for digging and (along with their teeth) for defense.[10] Each front foot has four toes plus a dewclaw. Each hind foot has four toes (but no dewclaw).[11]

Melanistic coloring
Oryctologus cuniculus
European rabbit (wild)

Most wild rabbits (especially compared to hares) have relatively full, egg-shaped bodies. The soft coat of the wild rabbit is agouti in coloration (or, rarely, melanistic), which aids in camouflage. The tail of the rabbit (with the exception of the cottontail species) is dark on top and white below. Cottontails have white on the top of their tails.[12]

As a result of the position of the eyes in its skull, the rabbit has a field of vision that encompasses nearly 360 degrees, with just a small blind spot at the bridge of the nose.[13]

Hind limb elements

This image comes from a specimen in the Pacific Lutheran University natural history collection. It displays all of the skeletal articulations of rabbit's hind limbs.

The anatomy of rabbits' hind limbs is structurally similar to that of other land mammals and contributes to their specialized form of locomotion. The bones of the hind limbs consist of long bones (the femur, tibia, fibula, and phalanges) as well as short bones (the tarsals). These bones are created through endochondral ossification during development. Like most land mammals, the round head of the femur articulates with the acetabulum of the os coxae. The femur articulates with the tibia, but not the fibula, which is fused to the tibia. The tibia and fibula articulate with the tarsals of the pes, commonly called the foot. The hind limbs of the rabbit are longer than the front limbs. This allows them to produce their hopping form of locomotion. Longer hind limbs are more capable of producing faster speeds. Hares, which have longer legs than cottontail rabbits, are able to move considerably faster.[14] Rabbits stay just on their toes when moving; this is called digitigrade locomotion. The hind feet have four long toes that allow for this and are webbed to prevent them from spreading when hopping.[15] Rabbits do not have paw pads on their feet like most other animals that use digitigrade locomotion. Instead, they have coarse compressed hair that offers protection.[16]

Musculature

The rabbit's hind limb (lateral view) includes muscles involved in the quadriceps and hamstrings.

Rabbits have muscled hind legs that allow for maximum force, maneuverability, and acceleration that is divided into three main parts: foot, thigh, and leg. The hind limbs of a rabbit are an exaggerated feature. They are much longer than the forelimbs, providing more force. Rabbits run on their toes to gain the optimal stride during locomotion. The force put out by the hind limbs is contributed by both the structural anatomy of the fusion tibia and fibula, and muscular features.[17] Bone formation and removal, from a cellular standpoint, is directly correlated to hind limb muscles. Action pressure from muscles creates force that is then distributed through the skeletal structures. Rabbits that generate less force, putting less stress on bones are more prone to osteoporosis due to bone rarefaction.[18] In rabbits, the more fibers in a muscle, the more resistant to fatigue. For example, hares have a greater resistance to fatigue than cottontails. The muscles of rabbit's hind limbs can be classified into four main categories: hamstrings, quadriceps, dorsiflexors, or plantar flexors. The quadriceps muscles are in charge of force production when jumping. Complementing these muscles are the hamstrings, which aid in short bursts of action. These muscles play off of one another in the same way as the plantar flexors and dorsiflexors, contributing to the generation and actions associated with force.[19]

Ears

Anatomy of mammalian ear
A Holland Lop resting with one ear up and one ear down. Some rabbits can adjust their ears to hear distant sounds.

Within the order lagomorphs, the ears are used to detect and avoid predators. In the family Leporidae, the ears are typically longer than they are wide. For example, in black tailed jack rabbits, their long ears cover a greater surface area relative to their body size that allow them to detect predators from far away. In contrast with cottontail rabbits, their ears are smaller and shorter, requiring that predators be closer before they can detect them and flee. Evolution has favored rabbits having shorter ears, so the larger surface area does not cause them to lose heat in more temperate regions. The opposite can be seen in rabbits that live in hotter climates; possessing longer ears with a larger surface area helps with dispersion of heat. Since sound travels less well in arid as opposed to cooler air, longer ears may aid the organism in detecting predators sooner rather than later, in warmer temperatures.[20][page needed] Rabbits are characterized by shorter ears than hares.[21][page needed] Rabbits' ears are an important structure to aid thermoregulation as well as in detecting predators due to the way the outer, middle, and inner ear muscles coordinate with one another. The ear muscles also aid in maintaining balance and movement when fleeing predators.[22]

Outer ear

The auricle, also known as the pinna, is a rabbit's outer ear.[23] The rabbit's pinnae represent a fair part of the body surface area. It is theorized that the ears aid in dispersion of heat at temperatures above 30 °C (86 °F), with rabbits in warmer climates having longer pinnae due to this. Another theory is that the ears function as shock absorbers that could aid and stabilize rabbits' vision when fleeing predators, but this has typically only been seen in hares.[24][page needed] The rest of the outer ear has bent canals that lead to the eardrum or tympanic membrane.[25]

Middle ear

The middle ear, separated by the outer eardrum in the back of the rabbit's skull, contains three bones: the hammer, anvil, and stirrup, collectively called ossicles, which act to decrease sound before it hits the inner ear; in general, the ossicles act as a barrier to the inner ear for sound energy.[25]

Inner ear

Inner ear fluid, called endolymph, receives the sound energy. After receiving the energy. The inner ear comprises two parts: the cochlea that uses sound waves from the ossicles, and the vestibular apparatus that manages the rabbit's position in regard to movement. Within the cochlea a basilar membrane contains sensory hair structures that send nerve signals to the brain, allowing it to recognize different sound frequencies. Within the vestibular apparatus three semicircular canals help detect angular motion.[25]

Dewlaps

A palomino rabbit displaying her dewlap beside a month-old kit

A dewlap is a longitudinal flap of skin or similar flesh that hangs beneath the lower jaw or neck. It is a secondary sex characteristic in rabbits, caused by the presence of female sex hormones. They develop with puberty. A female rabbit who has been neutered before reaching sexual maturity will not develop a dewlap, and even if a doe is neutered after developing a dewlap, the dewlap will gradually disappear over several months. This also aligns with the results of injecting male rabbits with female sex hormones, specifically the ones from pregnant women's urine. The male rabbits developed dewlaps, which then gradually disappeared once administration had ceased.[26] (This is not the process of the rabbit test, a common way to test for human female pregnancy in the 20th century; the pregnancy test involved dissecting female rabbits after injection with urine to see if their ovaries had enlarged.)[27] While it is unclear exactly what function a dewlap performs, pregnant female rabbits will pluck fur from their dewlaps shortly before giving birth to line a nest for their young.[28]

Thermoregulation

The blood flow through the rabbit's large ears help with thermoregulation.

Thermoregulation is the process that an organism uses to maintain an optimal body temperature independent of external conditions.[29] This process is carried out by the pinnae, which takes up most of the rabbit's body surface and contain a vascular network and arteriovenous shunts.[30] In a rabbit, the optimal body temperature is around 38.5–40.0 °C (101.3–104.0 °F).[31] If their body temperature exceeds or does not meet this optimal temperature, the rabbit must return to homeostasis. Homeostasis of body temperature is maintained by the use of their large, highly vascularized ears that are able to change the amount of blood flow that passes through the ears.

Respiratory system

Ventral view of dissected rabbit lungs with key structures labeled

The rabbit's nasal cavity lies dorsal to the oral cavity, and the two compartments are separated by the hard and soft palate.[32] The nasal cavity itself is separated into a left and right side by a cartilage barrier, and it is covered in fine hairs that trap dust before it can enter the respiratory tract.[32][33][page needed] As the rabbit breathes, air flows in through the nostrils along the alar folds. From there, the air moves into the nasal cavity, also known as the nasopharynx, down through the trachea, through the larynx, and into the lungs.[33][page needed][34] The larynx functions as the rabbit's voice box, which enables it to produce a wide variety of sounds.[33][page needed] The trachea is a long tube embedded with cartilaginous rings that prevent the tube from collapsing as air moves in and out of the lungs. The trachea then splits into a left and right bronchus, which meet the lungs at a structure called the hilum. From there, the bronchi split into progressively more narrow and numerous branches. The bronchi branch into bronchioles, into respiratory bronchioles, and ultimately terminate at the alveolar ducts. The branching that is typically found in rabbit lungs is a clear example of monopodial branching, in which smaller branches divide out laterally from a larger central branch.[35]

The structure of the rabbit's nasal and oral cavities necessitates breathing through the nose. This is due to the fact that the epiglottis is fixed to the backmost portion of the soft palate.[34] Within the oral cavity, a layer of tissue sits over the opening of the glottis, which blocks airflow from the oral cavity to the trachea.[32] The epiglottis functions to prevent the rabbit from aspirating on its food. Further, the presence of a soft and hard palate allow the rabbit to breathe through its nose while it feeds.[33][page needed]

Monopodial branching as seen in dissected rabbit lungs

Rabbits' lungs are divided into four lobes: the cranial, middle, caudal, and accessory lobes. The right lung is made up of all four lobes, while the left lung only has two: the cranial and caudal lobes.[35] To provide space for the heart, the left cranial lobe of the lungs is significantly smaller than that of the right.[32] The diaphragm is a muscular structure that lies caudal to the lungs and contracts to facilitate respiration.[32][34]


Digestion

Easily digestible food is processed in the gastrointestinal tract and expelled as regular feces. But in order to get nutrients out of hard to digest fiber, rabbits ferment fiber in the cecum (in the GI tract) and then expel the contents as cecotropes, which are reingested (cecotrophy). The cecotropes are then absorbed in the small intestine to utilize the nutrients.[9][36]

Dissected image of the male rabbit reproductive system with key structures labeled

Because rabbits cannot vomit,[37] if buildup occurs within the intestines (due often to a diet with insufficient fibre),[38] intestinal blockage can occur.[39]

Reproduction

Diagram of the male rabbit reproductive system with main components labeled

The adult male reproductive system forms the same as most mammals with the seminiferous tubular compartment containing the Sertoli cells and an adluminal compartment that contains the Leydig cells.[40] The Leydig cells produce testosterone, which maintains libido[40] and creates secondary sex characteristics such as the genital tubercle and penis. The Sertoli cells triggers the production of Anti-Müllerian duct hormone, which absorbs the Müllerian duct. In an adult male rabbit, the sheath of the penis is cylinder-like and can be extruded as early as two months of age.[41] The scrotal sacs lay lateral to the penis and contain epididymal fat pads which protect the testes. Between 10 and 14 weeks, the testes descend and are able to retract into the pelvic cavity to thermoregulate.[41] Furthermore, the secondary sex characteristics, such as the testes, are complex and secrete many compounds. These compounds include fructose, citric acid, minerals, and a uniquely high amount of catalase.[40]

Diagram of the female rabbit reproductive system with main components labeled

The adult female reproductive tract is bipartite, which prevents an embryo from translocating between uteri.[42] The two uterine horns communicate to two cervixes and forms one vaginal canal. Along with being bipartite, the female rabbit does not go through an estrus cycle, which causes mating induced ovulation.[41]

The average female rabbit becomes sexually mature at three to eight months of age and can conceive at any time of the year for the duration of her life. Egg and sperm production can begin to decline after three years.[40] During mating, the male rabbit will mount the female rabbit from behind and insert his penis into the female and make rapid pelvic hip thrusts. The encounter lasts only 20–40 seconds and after, the male will throw himself backwards off the female.[43]

The rabbit gestation period is short and ranges from 28 to 36 days with an average period of 31 days. A longer gestation period will generally yield a smaller litter while shorter gestation periods will give birth to a larger litter. The size of a single litter can range from four to 12 kits allowing a female to deliver up to 60 new kits a year. After birth, the female can become pregnant again as early as the next day.[41]

After mating, in some species, hormonal changes will cause the doe to begin to dig a burrow for her nest about a week before giving birth. Between three days and a few hours before giving birth another series of hormonal changes will cause her to prepare the nest structure. The doe will first gather grass for a structure, and an elevation in prolactin shortly before birth will cause her fur to shed that the doe will then use to line the nest, providing insulation for the newborn kits.[44]

The mortality rates of embryos are high in rabbits and can be due to infection, trauma, poor nutrition and environmental stress so a high fertility rate is necessary to counter this.[41]

Sleep

Rabbits may appear to be crepuscular, but their natural inclination is toward nocturnal activity.[45] In 2011, the average sleep time of a rabbit in captivity was calculated at 8.4 hours per day.[46] As with other prey animals, rabbits often sleep with their eyes open, so that sudden movements will awaken the rabbit to respond to potential danger.[47]

Diseases and immunity

In addition to being at risk of disease from common pathogens such as Bordetella bronchiseptica and Escherichia coli, rabbits can contract the virulent, species-specific viruses RHD ("rabbit hemorrhagic disease", a form of calicivirus)[48] or myxomatosis. Among the parasites that infect rabbits are tapeworms (such as Taenia serialis), external parasites (including fleas and mites), coccidia species, and Toxoplasma gondii.[49][50] Domesticated rabbits with a diet lacking in high-fiber sources, such as hay and grass, are susceptible to potentially lethal gastrointestinal stasis.[51] Rabbits and hares are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to transmit rabies to humans.[52]

Encephalitozoon cuniculi, a microsporidial parasite, is capable of infecting many mammals, including rabbits.[53]

Rabbit immunity has significantly diverged from other tetrapods in the manner in which it employs immunoglobulin light chains.[54][55] In one case, McCartney-Francis (et al., 1984) discover a unique additional disulfide bond between Cys 80 in Vκ and Cys 171 in Cκ.[54][55] They suggest that this may serve to stabilise rabbit antibodies.[54][55] Meanwhile, IGKC1 shows high amino acid divergence between domesticated types and ferals derived from them.[55] This can be as high as 40%.[55]

Rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD) is caused by strains of rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus (RHDV), including type 2 (RHDV2).[56] RHDV2 was detected for the first time in Washington state, US in May 2022 and then in August once in Washington and twice in Oregon.[57] Since then, it has spread to many states in the Unites States.

Ecology

Rabbit kits one hour after birth

Rabbits are prey animals and are therefore constantly aware of their surroundings. For instance, in Mediterranean Europe, rabbits are the main prey of red foxes, badgers, and Iberian lynxes.[58] If confronted by a potential threat, a rabbit may freeze and observe then warn others in the warren with powerful thumps on the ground. Rabbits have a remarkably wide field of vision, and a good deal of it is devoted to overhead scanning.[59] The doe (mother) is aware that she gives off scent which can attract predators, so she will stay away from the nest to avoid putting the kits (babies) in danger, returning the nest only a few times a day to feed the kits.[60]

Rabbits survive predation by burrowing (some species), hopping away in a zig-zag motion, and, if captured, delivering powerful kicks with their hind legs. Their strong teeth allow them to bite to escape a struggle.[61] The longest-lived rabbit on record, a domesticated European rabbit living in Tasmania, died at age 18.[62] The lifespan of wild rabbits is much shorter; the average longevity of an eastern cottontail, for instance, is less than one year.[63]

Habitat and range

Domestic rabbit photographed at Alligator Bay, Beauvoir, France

Rabbit habitats include meadows, woods, forests, grasslands, deserts and wetlands.[64] While some rabbits live solitary lives, others live in groups, and the European rabbit, lives in burrows, or rabbit holes. A group of burrows is called a warren.[64]

More than half of the world's rabbit population resides in North America.[64] They are also native to southwestern Europe, Southeast Asia, Sumatra, some islands of Japan, and parts of Africa and South America. They are not naturally found in most of Eurasia, where a number of species of hares are present. Rabbits first entered South America relatively recently, as part of the Great American Interchange. Much of the continent has just one species of rabbit, the tapeti, while most of South America's Southern Cone has no rabbits. The European rabbit has been introduced to many places around the world.[12] A recent study found that "the (so-called) Chinese rabbits were introduced from Europe. Genetic diversity in Chinese rabbits was very low."[65]

Rabbits have been launched into space orbit.[66]

Environmental problems

Impact of rabbit-proof fence, Cobar, New South Wales, 1905

Rabbits have been a source of environmental problems when introduced into the wild by humans. As a result of their appetites, and the rate at which they breed, feral rabbit depredation can be problematic for agriculture. Gassing (fumigation of warrens),[67] barriers (fences), shooting, snaring, and ferreting have been used to control rabbit populations, but the most effective measures are diseases such as myxomatosis (myxo or mixi, colloquially) 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, it could create a population boom, as those diseases are the most serious threats to rabbit survival. Rabbits in Australia and New Zealand are considered to be such a pest that land owners are legally obliged to control them.[68][69]

Rabbits are known to be able to catch fire and spread wildfires, but the efficiency and relevance of this method has been doubted by forest experts who contend that a rabbit on fire could move some meters.[70][71] Knowledge on fire-spreading rabbits is based on anecdotes as there is no known scientific investigation on the subject.[71]

As food and clothing

Coniglio alla Sanremese

In some areas, wild rabbits and hares are hunted for their meat, a lean source of high quality protein.[72] In the wild, such hunting is accomplished with the aid of trained falcons, ferrets, or dogs, as well as with snares or other traps and rifles. A caught rabbit may be dispatched with a sharp blow to the back of its head, a practice from which the term rabbit punch is derived.

Wild leporids comprise a small portion of global rabbit-meat consumption. Domesticated descendants of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) that are bred and kept as livestock (a practice called cuniculture) account for the estimated 200 million tons of rabbit meat produced annually.[73] Approximately 1.2 billion rabbits are slaughtered each year for meat worldwide.[74] In 1994, the countries with the highest consumption per capita of rabbit meat were Malta with 8.89 kg (19.6 lb), Italy with 5.71 kg (12.6 lb), and Cyprus with 4.37 kg (9.6 lb), falling to 0.03 kg (0.07 lb) in Japan. The figure for the United States was 0.14 kg (0.31 lb) per capita. The largest producers of rabbit meat in 1994 were China, Russia, Italy, France, and Spain.[75] Rabbit meat was once a common commodity in Sydney, but declined after the myxomatosis virus was intentionally introduced to control the exploding population of feral rabbits in the area.

In the United Kingdom, fresh rabbit is sold in butcher shops and markets, and some supermarkets sell frozen rabbit meat. At farmers markets there, including the famous Borough Market in London, rabbit carcasses are sometimes displayed hanging, unbutchered (in the traditional style), next to braces of pheasant or other small game. Rabbit meat is a feature of Moroccan cuisine, where it is cooked in a tajine with "raisins and grilled almonds added a few minutes before serving".[76] In China, rabbit meat is particularly popular in Sichuan cuisine, with its stewed rabbit, spicy diced rabbit, BBQ-style rabbit, and even spicy rabbit heads, which have been compared to spicy duck neck.[73] Rabbit meat is comparatively unpopular elsewhere in the Asia–Pacific.

An extremely rare infection associated with rabbits-as-food is tularemia (also known as rabbit fever), which may be contracted from an infected rabbit.[77] Inhaling the bacteria during the skinning process increases the risk of getting tularemia.

In addition to their meat, rabbits are used for their wool, fur, and pelts, as well as their nitrogen-rich manure and their high-protein milk.[78] Production industries have developed domesticated rabbit breeds (such as the well-known Angora rabbit) for the purpose of these needs.

Behaviors

Binkies, also more generally called zoomies,[79] in rabbits are characterized by a sudden kick with their hind legs, shaking their heads sideways (usually mid-air), and running around rapidly. Another term is half-binky, which is characterized by a shorter span and a sharp flick of the head. Both types of binkies indicate happiness or excitement. All of which typically only last for around a second. A rabbit might do quick, rapid multiple binkies in one session. It is thought to be a practice run in case they need to escape from danger.[80] Binkies more commonly occur in domesticated rabbits living in a comfortable environment.[81]

Rabbits mostly use full-body actions, like flopping, to communicate emotion to other rabbits and humans. Rabbits flopping in front of other rabbits can be meant as a non-aggressive insult.[82][83] Rabbits commonly smell the ground first, then tilt their head to the side with a subtle jerky movement in order to lie down to its side, which exposes their belly. They may thump their hind feet on the ground to signal other rabbits that they're feeling threatened or that potential dangers are near their territory. Some domesticated rabbits might thump to get their owner's attention. Not all rabbits thump.[84]

Both sexes of rabbits often rub their chins on objects or people with their scent gland located under the chin. This is the rabbit's way of marking their territory or possessions for other rabbits to recognize by depositing scent gland secretions. It might also serve as a reminder for the rabbit to return and investigate the object later, helping them navigate in the dark and to help them in their recollection of where they have been. Rabbits who have bonded will respect each other's smell, which indicates a territorial border.[85][86]

In culture

Rabbits are often posited by scholars as symbols of fertility and spring. The Easter Bunny is a figure from Lutheran German folklore that then spread to America and later other parts of the world and is similar to Santa Claus. The rabbits' role as a prey animal with few defenses evokes vulnerability and innocence and in folklore and modern children's stories, rabbits often appear as sympathetic characters, able to connect easily with youth of all kinds (for example, the Velveteen Rabbit or Thumper in Bambi).

With its reputation as a prolific breeder, the rabbit juxtaposes sexuality with innocence, as in the Playboy Bunny. The rabbit is also known for its speed, agility, and endurance, symbolized (for example) by the marketing icons the Energizer Bunny and the Duracell Bunny.

Folklore

The rabbit often appears in folklore as the trickster archetype as he uses his cunning to outwit his enemies.

The rabbit as trickster is a part of American popular culture, as Br'er Rabbit (from African-American folktales and, later, Disney animation) and Bugs Bunny (the cartoon character from Warner Bros.), for example.

Anthropomorphized rabbits have appeared in film and literature, in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (the White Rabbit and the March Hare characters), in Watership Down (including the film and television adaptations), in Rabbit Hill (by Robert Lawson), and in the Peter Rabbit stories (by Beatrix Potter). In the 1920s, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was a popular cartoon character.

A rabbit's foot may be carried as an amulet, believed to bring protection and good luck. This belief is found in many parts of the world, with the earliest use being recorded in Europe c. 600 BC.[89]

On the Isle of Portland in Dorset, UK, the rabbit is said to be unlucky, and speaking the creature's name can cause upset among older island residents. This is thought to date back to early times in the local quarrying industry, where, to save space, extracted stones that were not fit for sale were set aside in what became tall, unstable walls. The local rabbits' tendency to burrow there would weaken the walls, and their collapse would result in injuries or even death. In the local culture to this day, the rabbit (when he has to be referred to) may instead be called a "long ears" or "underground mutton" so as not to risk bringing a downfall upon oneself.[90]

In other parts of Britain and in North America, "Rabbit rabbit rabbit" is one variant of an apotropaic or talismanic superstition that involves saying or repeating the word "rabbit" (or "rabbits" or "white rabbits" or some combination thereof) out loud upon waking on the first day of each month, because doing so is believed to ensure good fortune for the duration of that month.[91]

The "rabbit test" is a term first used in 1949 for the Friedman test, an early diagnostic tool for detecting a pregnancy in humans. It is a common misconception (or perhaps an urban legend) that the test-rabbit would die if the woman was pregnant. This led to the phrase "the rabbit died" becoming a euphemism for a positive pregnancy test.[92]

Many modern children's stories and cartoons portray rabbits as particularly fond of eating carrots. This is a myth, as wild rabbits do not naturally seek out carrots over other plants, and in fact eating too much carrot is harmful for them because of its high sugar content.[93] This led to some owners feeding them mostly carrots based on this false perception.[94][95]

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ This genus is a hare, not a rabbit

Citations

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  5. ^ "Common Questions: What Do You Call a Group of...?". archived copy of Animal Congregations, or What Do You Call a Group of.....?. U.S. Geological Survey Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. Archived from the original on 20 March 2015. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
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Further reading

External links