The Animal Answer Guide
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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A few years ago we walked through Spain's Doñana National Park hoping to catch a glimpse of a very rare cat. Doñana is home to a few of the last Iberian lynx, a beautiful cat many experts believe will be the first felid to go extinct since the sabertooth. We were thrilled to spot one in the dusky light and even follow it for a bit as it set out on an evening hunt. A few ...
1 Introducing Rabbits
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Rabbits and hares are lagomorphs, a word that means "hare-shaped" in Greek. There are few people who can't readily picture rabbits and hares. These animals are found around the world as native or introduced species and figure prominently in myths and legends, art and literature, cuisine and popular culture. Far less well known than rabbits and hares is the third ...
2 Form and Function of Rabbits
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Lagomorphs can be roughly divided into pikas, which are small, rabbits, which are medium-sized, and hares, which are medium-sized to large. Overall lagomorphs exhibit a relatively small range of sizes, from around about 80 grams to about 6 kilograms (2.8 ounces to 15 pounds), but some can weigh as much as 10 kilograms (22 pounds). Compare this with rodents, ...
3 Rabbit Colors
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The overall coloration of many rabbits and hares appears brownish or grayish, although pikas tend to be reddish to buff colored. But there is a lot of variation in color and color patterns both between and within species, and individual coloration is not uniform over the entire body. The ventral surface of the body (the belly side) is usually lighter than the dorsal surface (the back side). The most ...
4 Rabbit Behavior
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The only detailed, long-term studies of the social behavior of lagomorphs are those of a few pika species and the European rabbit. With the exception of the burrowing pika species, lagomorphs tend to be more asocial than not. Most typically, pikas, rabbits, and hares are solitary most of the time, coming together during the breeding season and sometimes forming aggregations at feeding sites. Even in European rabbits, which live in groups centered on interconnected underground ...
5 Rabbit Ecology
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All lagomorphs have two fundamental requirements for their living space: they need places to shelter and places to eat in close proximity, often but not always in a mosaic of shelter sites interspersed with feeding sites. The areas occupied by lagomorphs-either their home ranges or territories-must contain both of these or the animals simply can't live there. For just a few species, such as the swamp, marsh, and riverine rabbits, water is also essential. Shelter provides ...
6 Reproduction and Development of Rabbits
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You've probably heard the simile"mad as a March hare" and are familiar with the March Hare character of Alice in Wonderland. A similar expression dates to around 1500, "Thanne they begyn to swere and to stare, And be as braynles as a Marshe hare." The allusion is to the mating behavior of European hares, which if not mad, certainly looks madcap. During the ...
7 Rabbit Foods and Feeding
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Most people asked this question would answer carrots, based on the near-universal association of rabbits and carrots in popular depictions, such as Bugs Bunny who is rarely seen without a carrot in his mouth. And it's true that rabbits and hares like carrots, as well as lettuce and other veggies that Peter Rabbit filched from Mr. McGregor's garden. In agricultural areas of Europe, where European hares are abundant (but declining), in some ...
8 Rabbits and Humans
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No wild animal makes a good pet, and lagomorphs are no exception. In fact, lagomorphs in general are challenging to maintain in captivity and are rarely exhibited in zoos. The only lagomorph that makes a good pet is the domestic European rabbit. In the United States, estimates suggest there are about 5 million pet rabbits living in just over 2 million homes, and people who ...
9 Rabbit Problems (from a human viewpoint)
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One of the first historical mentions of European rabbits is from the Greek geographer Strabo, who lived from about 58 BCE to 20 CE. He, at least, saw them as pests, writing, Turdetania [modern-day Andalucía province in southern Spain] also has a great abundance of cattle of all kinds, and of game. But there are scarcely any destructive animals, except the burrowing hares, ...
10 Human Problems (from a rabbit's viewpoint)
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Many people are surprised to learn that some rabbits are endangered. How could animals proverbial for profligate reproduction and considered serious pests in some places be endangered? As we've shown elsewhere, not all lagomorphs breed like rabbits, and even the European rabbit, on which this expression is based, is now in trouble. But, more important, even profligate reproductive capabilities don't necessarily compensate for the mostly human-caused environmental changes that lead to species endangerment. In fact, low rates of reproduction, such as those famously ...
11 Rabbits in Stories and Literature
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Rabbits and hares may well be the animals most represented in the myths, fables, folktales, symbols, and religions of people around the world, playing prominent and often surprisingly similar roles in the diverse cultures of Europe, Asia, North and Central America, and Africa. Yet there is little congruence in the various roles that rabbits play-they can be depicted as benign, gentle souls as well as monsters. Rabbits-and we will use rabbits here to mean both rabbits and hares-symbolize timidity and fearfulness, as well as lustful female sexuality. Rabbits are almost ubiquitously depicted as tricksters, using cunning and guile to best creatures that want ...
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A variety of specialists study lagomorphs. Scientists who study pikas, rabbits, and hares include wildlife biologists and ecologists, who generally observe the lagomorphs in their natural environments to better understand how these animals behave, reproduce, and fulfill various roles in the ecosystems of which they are a part and what they need to survive in our changing world. Paleontologists pore over the fossils of extinct lagomorphs to learn about their evolution, diversification, and geographic distribution ...
Appendix: Rabbits of the World
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Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 35 color photos, 74 b&w photos, 6 line drawings
Publication Year: 2010
Series Title: The Animal Answer Guides: Q&A for the Curious Naturalist