Rabbits

Natural History

Rabbits are mammals belonging to the Leporidae family and consist of 54 species belonging to 11 different genera found throughout the world. Characteristics of mammals include being born alive, nursing their young, having hair or fur, a backbone and a well-developed brain. Rabbits are one of the most numerous mammals on Earth. The native Virginia rabbit is the Eastern Cottontail and can be identified by its brownish fur and white fur on the underside of its tail.

Being herbivores, rabbits eat a plant based diet consisting of clover, grass, bark, and wild fruits. They also enjoy occasional treats such as apples, carrots, pumpkin seeds, and turnips. Like rodents, their teeth are always growing; so they must always chew things to keep their teeth short.  Unlike rodents, rabbits have two sets of first incisors (the front teeth) rather than one set. This extra set of incisors distinguishes a rabbit from a rodent. Rabbits have a unique digestive tract that prevents them from vomiting. They also re-ingest their fecal droppings to get the full nutritional value from their food.

Domestic rabbits can make good pets because they can be litter box trained, are affectionate towards humans, and have a relatively long lifespan of 7 to 12 years. When handling a rabbit you should place one hand under it, just below the front legs and place the other hand under its bottom. Make sure you hold the rabbit close to your body and drop to one knee if it starts to struggle, this will be less of a drop if the rabbit falls. Rabbits are easily scared, so frequent attempts at picking up and petting them will make things easier. Small pet breeds include Netherland dwarf, dutch, mini lop, Holland lop, mini rex. The Maymont Farm has two rabbits, a Jersey-Wooly/Rex hybrid and a Lop crossbreed.

Fun Facts

  • A group of rabbits is called a “fluffle.”
  • When female rabbits are ready to mate, they will rub their chin on things. This is how they mark their territories and leave scents.
  • Droppings make excellent fertilizer for gardens and flower beds.
  • Rabbits are usually crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk), although a few species are nocturnal (active at night).
  • The smallest rabbit is the pygmy rabbit that is 8” long and weighs less than a pound.

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