Biologists classify rabbits into 10 groups called genera and into many species within the genera. The most widespread types of rabbits are the cottontails and European rabbits. Most domestic rabbits are tame varieties of European rabbits.
Tame varieties of rabbits make excellent pets and most can even be housebroken like a cat. A few species of rabbits are very social. However, most rabbits are relatively solitary with some species being very territorial coming together only to breed or forage in small groups. During territorial disputes, rabbits will sometimes "box" using their front legs.
Rabbits come in a variety of sizes. The pygmy rabbit can be as little as 8 inches and weigh less than a pound, whereas larger species can grow more than 20 inches in length and weigh more than 10 pounds. Most rabbits like to eat and frolic from late afternoon to dawn and spend most of the day resting and sleeping.
In spring and summer, rabbits like to eat green leafy plants, while in the winter they eat twigs, bark, and fruits of bushes and trees. In a process called "refection,” some rabbits re-swallow part of their feces in order to use their food more efficiently.
Rabbit populations are usually kept in check by predators and diseases such as tularemia (rabbit fever). This disease can also spread to people who handle sick rabbits.
Rabbits are a universal symbol of fertility because of their fast breeding. They generally are able to breed at a very young age. Many females regularly produce litters of up to seven young.
Rabbits also tend to have multiple litters each year. It is possible for a female to have up to six litters a year during the spring and summer. This can happen because of their short gestation period of 28 to 31 days, and the fact that a female can become pregnant again almost directly after giving birth.
It has been calculated that if a pair of rabbits bred to their maximum capacity with no losses among the offspring, they could produce a population of more than 33 million in just three years time.
Larrie Stone is a retired Dana College science professor.