Animals Nature

European Rabbit

rabbit kiss

European rabbits are native to France, the Atlas Mountains and the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain).  The lack of a British origin has left the species without a native English name.  Rabbit and cony are the adopted terms.  The former was introduced as rabbert and rappit and evolved into rabytt in the seventeenth century and rabit during the eighteenth.  Cony was used to describe the animal’s pelts in the thirteenth century before it mutated into the designated word for adult European rabbits.  The young were called…rabbits.

An ideal habitat contains short grasslands with hideouts near feeding sites.  Hedgerows, woodland, scrub, boulders and burrows are suitable retreats.  The mass and locations of the burrow systems are dependent on the soil.  Loose soil demands a supporting root structure to prevent collapse.  European rabbits living in coniferous environments stick to the peripheral.  Chalk based tunneling systems are more complex than colonies burrowed in sand.    

Burrows are created within drained banks and slopes.  The entrances are ten to fifty centimeters wide and devoid of vegetation.  Large sites descend several feet into the earth and are disorganized.  The web of travel often expands and evolves between each generation.  Digging is done with the fore feet pulling soil backwards.  Females are more adept at burrowing than males.  The kids sleep in chambers lined with fur and grass.  The adults sleep against the hard earth.  They huddle together to stay warm.

european rabbit
European Rabbit – Photo Credit: DanielaC173


European hares are bigger and have black tipped ears.  European rabbits have shorter legs.  Adults weigh between two and a half to four and a half pounds.  The hind feet are under four inches.  The ears are around three inches.  Their bodies are sixteen inches long.  The males weigh more than the ladies.  Large specimens upwards of six pounds have been reported.  

The fur is brown and gray.  The overcoat includes shades of browns.  The neck and under section contain reddish hues.  Parts of the chest are brown.  Sometimes there is white and gray, or white.  Young European rabbits have white patterns on their foreheads.  Everyone has long and black whiskers.  The feet are adorned in fur.  White fur runs under the tail.  It is displayed as a warning to others when in danger.  Albino coloring is rare.  Molting occurs once a year.  It starts in March and ends between October and November.  

Dominant males will mate with several individuals.  The subservient form monogamous breeding partnerships.  The bucks will fight each other in populated areas over the first eight months of the year.  Does form a special burrow for their litter lined with moss and grass.  It is near the main warren and protects the kits from predators and adult bucks.  Gestation lasts for thirty days.  Males and females are born blind and in even ratios.  The ears move after ten days.  The eyes open after eleven.  The dominant offspring grow the largest.  The kits depart the burrow after three weeks.

rabbit kiss
Rabbit kiss – Photo Credit: Mathias Appel


European rabbits love to eat succulent leaves and shoots and grasses among the fescue.  Winter wheat is favored over dicotyledons and corn.  Bark and berries are devoured in the winter.  Sometimes they eat snails.  They can survive up to eight days without food.  Summer months are spent feeding on less in order to avoid predators.  Mucus-covered fecal pellets are consumed and filled with protein enriched bacteria.  

Wolves, lynxes, wolverines, dogs, dingoes and foxes are the main predators.  The rabbits are stalked and slain in the open through a surprise attack.  The process is difficult when the victim is near the burrow.  Badgers and foxes will dig out their prey.  Wildcats attack high populated areas.  Domestic cats are more than capable of subduing healthy adults, but prefer the weak and diseased.  Eagles, harriers and buzzards will kill without discretion.  Owls and hawks stick to smaller rabbits that they can carry.  

The rabbits are quiet.  There are a few vocalizations.  A high treble scream sounds like a piglet.  It is uttered during periods of extreme distress after being caught by a predator or the jaws of a trap.  A grunting sound is emitted amongst males to flex dominance.  Sometimes they sound like hiccups.  Pure aggression is expressed with a soft growl.

european rabbit baby
Baby European Rabbit – Photo Credit: Marie Hale

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Class: Mammalia
Order: Lagomorpha
Family: Leporidae
Genus: Oryctolagus
Species: O. cuniculus

European Rabbit Subspecies

O. c. algirusIberian rabbit (Spain, Africa, Portugal, Mediterranean Islands)
O. c. brachyotus Camargue rabbit (Southern France)
O. c. cnossius Cretan rabbit (Crete)
O. c. cuniculus Common rabbit (Europe, New Zealand, Chile, Africa, Australia and Pacific and Atlantic Islands)
O. c. domesticus Domestic rabbit (Global)
O. c. habetensis African rabbit (Morocco, Lau, Western Sahara)
O. c. huxleyi Mediterranean rabbit (Atlantic Islands, Salvage Islands and the Azores)
european rabbits
Two rabbits – Photo Credit: Bramans

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