European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Lagomorpha
Family:    Leporidae
Size:    Height: 14 to 20 inches (38 to 50 cm)
Weight: 3.3 to 7 pounds (1.5 to 3 kg)
Diet: Grass, leaves, clover, buds, roots, lettuce, carrots, and during the winter, tree bark
Distribution: Europe, Australia, New Zealand and North America
Young:  2 to 8 bunnies, up to 7 times per year
Animal Predators:  Dogs, cats, badgers, foxes, hawks and owls
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Female: Doe   Male: Buck   Young: Kitten or Bunny
Lifespan: 9 years in the wild and 13 years in captivity



       This species of rabbit is the ancestor of all domestic rabbits.

       The European rabbit was first introduced to Australia in the late 1700s.

       Rabbits often go into shock when captured or handled.

       Rabbits do not hibernate during the winter.


Most European rabbits have soft, greyish-brown fur mixed with black or red, although some may be all black in colour. The undersides are a pale grey or white, and the underside of the tail is white. There may be white under the nose and jaw line as well. Males are usually heavier than females. 



European rabbits originated in Spain and Portugal, and have been introduced to Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and North America. Their home range is anywhere from two to 50 acres, covering forest as well as fields. Some rabbits make their homes in city parks or suburban neighbourhoods.


Feeding Habits

Their diet includes grass, leaves, clover, buds and roots as well as garden items such as lettuce and carrots. During the winter months when food becomes scarce, rabbits will eat tree bark.



Rabbits can reproduce all through the year, with each litter usually made up of five to six baby rabbits; however, as many as eight or as few as two bunnies can be in a litter. Females can give birth to up to seven litters per year, but usually have only three to five, and they stop reproducing at about age six. Bunnies are born without fur and with closed eyes. The mother leaves them in a fur or grass-lined nest within the burrow, returning only to nurse them periodically. The male offers no assistance in raising the youngsters. By four weeks, the bunnies are weaned and at about four months, they are able to reproduce.



European rabbits are social, outgoing animals that live in groups of six to 10 rabbits in large burrows (also known as warrens) made up of a variety of tunnels and chambers. They are nocturnal and spend most of the day underground, coming out at night to feed. Rabbits are sanitary animals that leave their droppings outside, preferring to keep their burrows clean. They are docile animals that are timid of strangers, and although, they do not often use sound to communicate with each other, rabbits will scream if hurt or frightened. European rabbits are alert animals that scan their surroundings while sitting up on their haunches, their forepaws tucked under their chin. When a predator is approaching, they will thump the ground with their strong hind legs to warn other rabbits. They are excellent swimmers that often evade enemies by jumping into a river or lake. They can also sit still for long periods to escape detection. 



In Australia, the rabbit population had grown to an enormous proportion by the mid-1800s, becoming a threat to both native animal and native plant species. However, in the 1950s, the rabbit population greatly diminished when the disease myxomatosis was introduced in Australia. Uncovered in South America in 1896, South American rabbits have become resistant to the point where it has almost no effect on them. European rabbits, on the other hand, are extremely susceptible to the virus and the Australian population was reduced by up to 99 percent. 



European Rabbit Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US