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Poelagus Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae, found in many parts of the world. There are seven different genera in the family classified as rabbits, including the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), cottontail rabbits (genus Sylvilagus; 13 species), and the Amami Rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi, an endangered species on Amami Oshima, Japan). They are distinguished from the related hares in that they are altricial, having young that are born blind and hairless; many also live underground in burrows.

For jackrabbits, which are actually hares, in the genus Lepus, see hare.

Rabbits vary in size and weight. As a lagomorph, they have 4 sharp incisors (2 on top, 2 on bottom) that grow continuously throughout their life, and two peg teeth on the top behind the inscisors, dissimilar to those of rodents (which have only 2 each, top and bottom). Rabbits have long ears, large hind legs, and short fluffy tails. Rabbits move by hopping, using their long and powerful hind legs. To facilitate quick movement, rabbit hind feet have a thick padding of fur to dampen the shock of rapid hopping. Their toes are long, and are webbed to keep themselves from spreading apart as they jump.

They are well-known for digging networks of burrows called warrens, where they spend most of their time when not feeding. The young being born blind and furless, in a furlined nest in the warren, and totally dependent upon their mother.


Rabbits and people

The European Rabbit is the only species of rabbit to be domesticated. However, rabbits and people interact in many different ways beyond domestication. Rabbits are an example of an animal which is treated as food, pet and pest by the same culture.

When used for food, rabbits are both hunted and raised for meat. Snares or guns along with dogs are usually employed when catching wild rabbits for food. In many areas rabbits are also raised for meat, a practice called cuniculture. Rabbit pelts are a widely used fur for clothing.

Rabbits have also been a source of environmental problems when introduced into the wild by humans (see Rabbits in Australia for details of it as a pest species in that country). Because of their appetites, and the rate at which they breed, wild rabbit depredation can prove problematic for agriculture. Gassing, barriers (fences), shooting, snaring and ferreting have been used to control rabbit populations, as has the disease myxomatosis.


Rabbits and hares were formerly classified in the order Rodentia until 1912, when they were moved into a new order Lagomorpha. This order, in addition to containing rabbits and hares, also includes the pikas.


  • Family Leporidae
    • Genus Pentalagus
    • Genus Bunolagus
      • Bushman Rabbit , Bunolagus monticularis
    • Genus Nesolagus
      • Sumatra Short-Eared Rabbit , Nesolagus netscheri
    • Genus Romerolagus
      • Volcano Rabbit , Romerolagus diazi
    • Genus Brachylagus
      • Pygmy Rabbit , Brachylagus idahoensis
    • Genus Sylvilagus
      • Forest Rabbit , Sylvilagus brasiliensis
      • Dice's Cottontail , Sylvilagus dicei
      • Brush Rabbit, Sylvilagus bachmani
      • San Jose Brush Rabbit , Sylvilagus mansuetus
      • Swamp Rabbit, Sylvilagus aquaticus
      • Marsh Rabbit , Sylvilagus palustris
      • Eastern Cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus
      • New England Cottontail , Sylvilagus transitionalis
      • Mountain Cottontail , Sylvilagus nuttallii
      • Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii
      • Omilteme Cottontail , Sylvilagus insonus
      • Mexican Cottontail , Sylvilagus cunicularis
      • Tres Marias Rabbit , Sylvilagus graysoni
    • Genus Oryctolagus
    • Genus Poelagus
      • Central African Rabbit , Poelagus marjorita
    • 3 other genera in family, regarded as hares, not rabbits

Rabbits in culture and literature

Rabbits are often used as a symbol of fertility. It is possibly as a consequence of this that they have been associated with Easter as the Easter Bunny. The species' role as a prey animal also lends itself as a symbol of innocence as an animal that seems to wish harm on no one, another Easter connotation.

It is also a common folklore archetype of the trickster who uses his cunning to outwit his enemies. The most common example of this is Br'er Rabbit from African-American folktales; by extension the Warner Brothers cartoon character Bugs Bunny also typifies this image.

Anthropomorphic rabbits have appeared in a host of works of film and literature, most notably the White Rabbit in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; in the popular novel Watership Down, by Richard Adams; and in Beatrix Potter's works such as Peter Rabbit.

It is commonly believed that a rabbit, if injected with a woman's urine, will expire if the woman were pregnant. This is not true. However, in the 1920s it was discovered that if the injected urine contained the hormone hCG, a hormone found in the urine of pregnant women, the rabbit would display ovarian changes. The rabbit would indeed need to be killed to have its ovaries inspected, but the death of the rabbit was not the indicator of the results. Later revisions of the test allowed technicians to inspect the ovaries without euthanizing the unfortunate creature.

There is a rabbit among the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. See Rabbit (Zodiac).

Rabbit feet are considered lucky and fake rabbit feet are often sold as cheap trinkets. It also often leads to the humourous note that the rabbit itself was not lucky to lose them.

In Japanese tradition, rabbits live on the Moon where they make Mochi - a popular sticky snack. In Chinese literature, rabbits also accompany Chang-e on the Moon.

See also

External links

Last updated: 08-05-2005 06:58:59
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