Rabbits at the Whitebird Summit Lodge
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, including the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), cottontail rabbits (genus Sylvilagus; 13 species), and the Amami rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi, an endangered species on Amami shima, Japan). 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. They are also native to southwestern Europe, Southeast Asia, Sumatra, some islands of Japan, and in parts of Africa and South America. They are not naturally found in most of Eurasia, where a number of species of hares are present. Rabbits first entered South America relatively recently, as part of the Great American Interchange. Much of the continent has just one species of rabbit, the tapeti, while most of South America's southern cone is without rabbits.
The rabbit's long ears, which can be more than 10 cm (4 in) long, are probably an adaptation for detecting predators. They have large, powerful hind legs. The two front paws have 5 toes, the extra called the dewclaw. The hind feet have 4 toes. They are plantigrade animals while at rest; however, they move around on their toes while running, assuming a more digitigrade form. Wild rabbits do not differ much in their body proportions or stance, with full, egg-shaped bodies. Their size can range anywhere from 20 cm (8 in) in length and 0.4 kg in weight to 50 cm (20 in) and more than 2 kg. The fur is most commonly long and soft, with colors such as shades of brown, gray, and buff. The tail is a little plume of
brownish fur (white on top for cottontails
Because the rabbit's epiglottis is engaged over the soft palate except when swallowing, the rabbit is an obligate nasal breather. Rabbits have two sets of incisor teeth, one behind the other. This way they can be distinguished from rodents,
with which they are often confused. Carl Linnaeus originally grouped rabbits and rodents under the class Glires; later, they were separated as the scientific consensus is that many of their similarities were a result of convergent evolution. However, recent DNA analysis and the discovery of a common ancestor has supported the view that they share a common lineage, and thus rabbits and rodents are now often referred to together as members of the superclass Glires.
Rabbits are hindgut digesters. This means that most of their digestion takes place in their large intestine and cecum. In rabbits the cecum is about 10 times bigger than the stomach and it along with the large intestine makes up roughly 40% of the rabbit's digestive tract. The unique musculature of the cecum allows the intestinal tract of the rabbit to separate fibrous material from more digestible material; the fibrous material is passed as feces, while the more nutritious material is encased in a mucous lining as a
cecotrope. Cecotropes, sometimes called "night feces", are high in minerals, vitamins and proteins that are necessary to the rabbit's health. Rabbits eat these to meet their nutritional requirements; the mucous coating allows the nutrients to pass through the acidic stomach for digestion in the intestines. This process allows rabbits to extract the necessary nutrients from their food .
Rabbits are crepuscular, most active at dawn and dusk. The average sleep time of a captive rabbit is said to be 8.4 hours. Rabbits are herbivores that feed by grazing on grass, forbs, and leafy weeds. In consequence, their diet contains large amounts of cellulose, which is hard to digest. Rabbits solve this problem by passing two distinct types of feces: hard droppings and soft black viscous pellets, the latter of which are known as caecotrophs and are immediately eaten (a behaviour known as coprophagy). Rabbits reingest their own droppings (rather than chewing the cud as do cows and many other herbivores) to digest their food further and extract sufficient nutrients.
Rabbits graze heavily and rapidly for roughly the first half hour of a grazing period (usually in the late afternoon), followed by about half an hour of more selective feeding. In this time, the rabbit will also excrete many hard fecal pellets, being waste pellets that will not be reingested. If the environment is relatively non-threatening, the rabbit will remain outdoors for many hours, grazing at intervals. While out of the burrow, the rabbit will occasionally reingest its soft, partially digested pellets; this is rarely observed, since the pellets are reingested as they are produced. Reingestion is most common within the burrow between 8 o'clock in the morning and 5 o'clock in the evening, being carried out intermittently within that period.