All about rabbits
Rabbits are one of Britain’s most familiar mammals. They can often be seen in broad daylight, frequently in large numbers. That may be why many people don’t realise rabbits are not native, but were brought here 900 years ago from France by the Normans. They became an important source of meat and of fur for clothing. Many escaped and thrived, leading to the large populations we see today.
What to look for
Adult rabbits can grow up to 40cm long and weigh between 1.2kg and 2kg. They have long ears and large eyes either side of the head. Wild rabbits have fine grey fur and a white belly. They have very long hind feet and a distinctive fluffy tail that is black on top and white below.
Did you know?
- The rabbit’s big brown eyes set on the side of the head allow almost 180 degrees of vision and its large sensitive ears can be turned in any direction. Together, these provide maximum information about its surroundings and alert it to any danger.
- Rabbits feed on any vegetation within reach, including grasses, growing trees, tree bark, small herbs and agricultural crops.
- During the breeding season from January through to late summer up to seven litters of three to seven young are produced by each adult female. They are born in special nesting burrows, which are lined with grass and fur. When the female leaves the nest to feed she protects her young by sealing the entrance with soil and grass. The young rabbits are suckled by the female for about four weeks before becoming independent. She will then dig out a new nest for the next litter. This high rate of reproduction in rabbits is one of the main reasons for their success.
- By the 1950s, rabbits had become one of Britain’s most serious mammalian pests for farmers. In 1953, the Myxoma virus was deliberately introduced to the rabbit population and it spread very quickly. The resulting disease, myxomatosis, was very painful and almost always fatal within 10 days. It killed more than 99% of the rabbit population in two years.
Rabbit at Idle Valley
A special trip camera set up at Idle Valley Nature Reserve recorded some footage of a European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
Visit http://www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org/ for more information on the work of the Wildlife Trust
Rabbits are common and widespread in the United Kingdom. Their populatuion was greatly reduced by Myxomatosis in the 1950s, but has recovered since then. Myxomatosis is still present in rabbits today, particularly in crowded populations, but is much weaker and more rabbits are immune. Less than 60% of infected animals die, and their rapid breeding quickly makes up for any losses.
Rabbits like dry, well-drained slopes on field edges, grassland, woodland and dunes. They live in open country where predators such as foxes and birds of prey are easily spotted.
Where to see
Rabbits are mainly active and visible in fields and woodland at dawn, dusk and at night. As they live in large family groups, many may be seen at the same time. One rabbit is always on guard when they are feeding. When danger approaches the guard stamps its feet and the whole colony will bolt down their burrows. They run in a hopping motion or in long jumps, zig-zagging when fleeing predators. Even when they are not visible, the presence of rabbits in an area can often be revealed by the multiple entrances to their complex burrow systems, or warrens.