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Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae of the order Lagomorpha, found in several parts of the world. There are eight different genera in the family classified as rabbits. There are many other species of rabbit, and these, along with pikas and hares, make up the order Lagomorpha. The male is called a buck and the female is a doe; a young rabbit is a kitten or kit.
Rabbit habitats include meadows, woods, forests, grasslands, deserts and wetlands. Rabbits live in groups, and the best known species, the European rabbit, lives in underground burrows, or rabbit holes. A group of burrows is called a warren.
More than half the world's rabbit population resides in North America.
Rabbits are some of the most adored and benevolent creatures to grace our back yards and meadows. Their long, pink ears, powerful hind legs, black button noses, and cotton tails give them their distinctive, cuddly appearance and have made them the subject of childhood fables over the course of several centuries.
During warmer seasons, rabbits will eat weeds, grasses, clover, wildflowers, and flower and vegetable plants. When the weather turns cold, rabbits will munch on twigs, buds, bark, conifer needles, and any remaining green plants.
Rabbits are famous for their ability to reproduce. They can have several litters of four to seven kits a year. However, rabbits will naturally have fewer litters or will have litters with fewer kits when food or water is scarce. Wild rabbits have relatively short life spans (typically, less than two years), but they mature quickly and have short (30-day) gestation periods. Their mortality is based on food availability, predator presence, and weather stability.
Rabbits are altricial—which means that they are born hairless, blind, and helpless. Mother rabbits leave newborns in their nests, visiting them only at dusk and at dawn to avoid drawing the attention of predators. If you find a nest of baby rabbits unattended and want to make sure that the animals have not been abandoned or orphaned, drape a thin string across the entryway to the nest or burrow and leave the area. Return at 12-hour intervals. If the string has been moved, you can rest assured that the babies are being cared for. If the string has not been moved in more than 24 hours, visit our Wildlife Emergencies page to find out how to best care for orphaned rabbits. Rabbits more than 5 inches in length need no assistance unless they are sick or injured. A good rule of thumb is, if you have to chase a baby rabbit to catch him or her, the rabbit is fine!
Rabbits and hares look similar, so people often mistake them for one another. The easiest way to tell them apart is by their physical appearance. Hares' ears are longer and, though both rabbits and hares often have brown coats, hares' coats have black tips. Most rabbits (except for cottontails) live underground, while hares live in aboveground nests. Since their nests are often not very well hidden, young hares need to be able to evade predators. Therefore, hares are precocial—meaning that they are born with hair and the ability to see. Most hares can hop within a few hours of their birth.
September 30th, 2012
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