European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

The European rabbit is a species of rabbit that is native to the Iberian Peninsula and small areas of France, and is the ancester of the domesticated pet rabbit.

Euroean Rabbits were introduced onto islands by explorers with the aim of providing a food source when they returned and the rapid reproduction rate of the rabbits meant that they successfully became established in the wild in most countries where they were introduced.

European rabbits are a popular game animal and have been raised commerically for many years for their meat and fur and have been used extenstively in laboratories for medical research and testing of consumer products, as well as being domesticated and becoming a popular pet in many countries.

Wild European rabbits are greyish brown in colour with black/brown hairs sprinkled throughout the coat, with a paler belly and the underside of the tail is white.  They have a body length of 34cm-50cm and weigh 1Kg-2.5 Kgs.

The European rabbit inhabits grassland, woodland, open fields and the edges of agricultural land preferring soft, sandy soil that allows for easy burrowing.  

European rabbits are sociable and territorial animals, living in large groups in undergrown tunnels known as warrens which they have dug. They are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk, although are also active for much of the night. Rabbits spend most of the day in their underground burrows safe from predators, but they may also be seen outside during the day in undisturbed areas.

European rabbits communicate with each other by scent and touch, but can squeal when frightened and thump their hindlegs on the ground to warn others of danger.

Within the group the rabbits have two dominance hierarchies - one amongst the males and one amongst the females, with the most dominant male having mating rights with the females.  European rabbits breed throughout the year but most breeding activity occurs during spring and summer.  With a gestation period of 28-33 days and litter sizes varying from 3 to 12 they are prolific breeders. The youngsters are weaned after 28 days and reach sexual maturity at 4 months old.

The European rabbit feeds on a wide range of vegetation such as grass, leaves, tree bark and roots, and agricultural crops including vegetables and cereals and is considered an agricultural pest.

The most devastating example of this is seen in Australia when in 1859 a rich British landowner named Thomas Austin brought 24 rabbits into Australia to release for hunting on his land and these rabbits included both males and females. This introduction into the wild of the European rabbit resulted in a population explosion across Australia that resulted in decimated grassland used to graze sheep and cattle and resulted in plant species and wild animals competing for food being driven to the brink of extinction.

Predators of the European Rabbit include dogs, cats, foxes, mink, stoats, polecats, birds of prey, owls and humans.  In many countries extensive efforts are made to control the European rabbit population or even exterminate it.  In the 1950s the viral disease myxomatosis was introduced to European rabbit populations in Australia and although it resulted in a dramatic drop in the European rabbit population it failed to eradicate the European rabbit populations as those rabbits that survived gradually became more resistant to the disease.  

The lifespan of the European rabbit in the wild is typically 1-5 years, whilst their descendent the domesticated rabbit has an average lifespan of 8 to 12 years with up to 18 years being recorded.

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