Rabbits: Their Nature and Character

Rabbits are small mammalian creatures that belong to the Lagomorpha order in the family Leopridae. This is an order that contains hares as well as various species of rabbit found across the world.

Before we dive into the nature and character of rabbits, it is helpful to understand that not all rabbits are the same. In fact there are all kinds of species of rabbit that are differences in colourings, appearances and markings.

What are rabbits?

The family Lagomorpha which is where rabbits are placed in the animal kingdom, contains over 60 species. The Latin word leporidae has the meaning ‘those that resemble lepus’. Lepus is Latin for ‘hare’. Together with Pikas they make up the mammalian order Lagomorpha.

The place of rabbits in the animal kingdom

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Lagomorpha

Family: Leporidae

In the family Leporidae there are eight general and within these genera are over 60 species rabbits.

List of Rabbit Genera


These Amami or Ryuku rabbits (Pentalagus furnessi) and they are found predominantly on the Amami and Tokuno Islands of the Nansei archipelago, which are a group of islands off the southwestern coast of Japan. These islands were separated from the mainland some 1.5 million years ago.


Bunolagus monticularis are found in South Africa in the central and southern regions of the Karoo Desert of South Africa’s Cape Province


Annamite striped rabbits (Nesolagus timminsi) are found exclusively along the border of Vietnam and Laos amongst the central and northern parts of the Annamite Mountains.


Also known as the report go or the zacatuche, the volcano rabbit (Romerolagus diazi) is a small rabbit that is found in the mountains of Mexico and is the second smallest rabbit in the world.


The pygmy rabbit is the world’s smallest rabbit and is a North American rabbit.


Cottontail rabbits are widely distributed across North America, Central America, and northern and central South America. There are 17 species of them amongst 3 sub-genus.


The European rabbit or common rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is found in Europe and northwest Africa (Morocco and Algeria).


This genus consists of the monotypic Bunyoro rabbit or Central African rabbit (Poelagus marjorita) found in central Africa. It enjoys a habitat of damp savannah with rocky outcrops.


Red rock hares are three species found in Southern African countries of Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia.


This is the hispid hare (Caprolagus hispidus), also called Assam rabbit, which is found in South Asia along the southern foothills of the Himalayas.


Hares and jackrabbits are classified in this genus and are native to Africa, Eurasia, North America, and the Japanese archipelago.

Where does the Domestic Rabbit come from?

The domestic rabbit comes from the genus Oryctolagus or the European Rabbit, and is the type of rabbit that is kept as a pet. Any other types of rabbit mentioned above, cannot be kept as pets

Domestic rabbits did not always live in hutches and cages and so it is helpful to know more about their heritage and where they come from. One of the ways we can do this is to understand more about wild rabbits and how they tend to live. By wild rabbits we mean and species that is not kept by owners.

Most rabbits are similar in nature but are separated by slight distinctions which is why they are separated into different genera.

Where do wild rabbits live?

Non domesticated rabbits, apart from cottontail rabbits tend to live in burrows or warrens underground. They do his to stay warm and away from predators who seek to attack them. As prey animals, this is essential for their survival in the wild and they will rely on each other to guard against any potential predators. Cottontail rabbits live above ground and are not as social other types of rabbit tending to live on their own.

These warrens can measure up to three metres deep and cover a wide expanse of area with many different entrances, nesting areas, living quarters, and tunnel complexes.

They can be anywhere where they can dig including farmland, grassland, moorland, salt marshes, forests, meadows, woods, embankments, cliffs and dunes. They can also inhabit the abandoned homes of other subterranean animals such as voles and rats and enlarge them.

Rabbits are natural diggers so always need a place to dig.

Domesticated rabbits are kept in hutches, cages and runs. They can also be kept inside the home.

How long do rabbits live for?

Where as the domestic rabbit can live between 15-20 years, the wild rabbit only tends to live up to a year.

How do rabbits organise themselves socially?

In social colonies, there will be a dominant doe who will compete and fight other does for the best nesting site. It is usually the most dominant rabbits that have the most success at breeding.

The dominant Bucks in the colony will mark their territory by depositing faeces and scratching out shallow scrapes or even rubbing their chin against he ground so as to mark their scent on an area.

The lesser bucks and does will then be warned off venturing into the territory of a dominant rabbit. They will have a separate area where they will mix with other lesser rabbits.

Are rabbits nocturnal or diurnal?

Rabbits are mostly nocturnal creatures which means that they come out mainly at night. During the day time they will spend their time in their burrows.

They will spend this time resting and eating dark droppings which they pass and then consume themselves.

They get nourishment from these droppings and help them digest food. Rabbits will then come out of their burrows at dawn and dusk when the area is clear of predators.

They may sometimes be seen out in the daytime depending on their surroundings. For this, they prefer undisturbed places in order to do this. However they will never stray too far from their warren.

What do rabbits feed on in the wild?

Rabbits will eat vegetation surrounding their warren. They are herbivores so will eat any kind of vegetation that they like the taste of. His includes leaves, grasses, weeds, and other types of vegetation. Like their domestic counterparts they will take a nibble at most things and if they enjoy it they will consume it.

How do rabbits clean themselves ?

Rabbits clean themselves regularly by washing and grooming themselves making use of their teeth, claws and even their tongue. They will lick their paws and then rub it on the area concerned.

How large are wild rabbits?

Wild rabbits tend to measure between 8 inches (20cm) to 20 inches (50cm) in length and .9 lbs (.4 kg) to more than 4.4 lbs (2 kg) in weight.

What colour is fur of wild rabbits?

The fur of wild rabbits tendst to be soft and has shades of brown, gray/grey and buff.

How do wild rabbits handle predators?

As prey animals, rabbits are always concious of predators coming close. However they are armed with capabilities to hellp them stay alive. Rabbits have a very large field of vision and are able to see naturally across a large area which includes being able to scan overhead for long periods of time.

They are always on the look out for danger and if they happen to locate danger at all, a rabbit will run to warn others and will do so by thumping the floor with their hind feet.

They will also flash the underneath of their tail so that the others see the white color of its tail underside as it runs for the burrow. This is also an alarm signal.

If they are confronted at all by a threat they may also freeze and observe what is around them. This may also serve to put off the predator. The rabbit may then thump the ground with their hind legs or run towards the burrow.

When they are running away from predators they have a technique of hopping in a zig-zag motion. If they are captures then they will struggle and kick out with their hind legs. They will also look to bite at what ever is holding them.

Predators of rabbits include badgers, stoats, weasels, buzzards, cats, foxes and humans.

How do rabbits reproduce?

Rabbits are able to reproduce very quickly and in one year have the ability to produce more than 20 offspring. Many of these offspring will be able to breed only after 3-4 months old.
However this is also counterbalanced by the colonies suffering losses from predators, shooting, trapping, disease, and road traffic.

Rabbits will breed for around 9 months from January to October. Mating is very brief and will only last for less than a minute.

When they mate the ritual includes licking, spraying urine, sniffing and the buck following the doe until she succumbs and the buck mounts the doe.

The doe will begin to ovulate around 10 hours after she has mated and gestation period usually lasts between 28 to 30 days

The main reproductive periods are around spring and summer time.

The doe has the ability to produce a litter of young once a month, however this rarely happens.

When the doe gives birth, it is quite normal for half the young to die during birth. The dead are then reabsorbed into the mother’s body. The size of the litter will vary between 3 and 12.

The doe will not nest in the same burrow with the buck but will build her nest in a separate home which is called a ‘stop’; which may then become a new home for a community.

Within this nest she will have collected grass, straw and hay. She will have also plucked her own fur to line the nest

When they are born, the young are without fur, and are also blind and deaf. They will be left alone in the nest for most of the day with the doe only coming to visit them briefly to feed them. She will protect them by sealing the entrance to the nesting chamber with soil to keep them from predators and to insulate them from cold.

The buck will play no part in rearing the young and will leave it to the doe to do so. If they do come near them, the buck may even kill the young.

The young will being to grow fur straight away and by the eighth day will be totally covered in fur. Their eyes open by the second day.

The young will not leave the nest until the 16th day when they will be able to eat solid food.

By the 30th day they will be totally independent from their mother.

All images courtesy of wikipedia