Most of us think of a rabbit as being a cute harmless creature, unless that hungry little animal is eating our flowers or garden plants. Rabbits belong to the rodent family along with mice, rats, guinea pigs and squirrels.
Rodents are distinguished by having two pairs of ever-growing, razor sharp front teeth used for gnawing called incisors. These incisors grow continuously. If they are not worn down by constant gnawing, they can grow to a length that can cause serious health problems.
Rabbits also have unusually long ears, long hind feet, and a short cottony tail. Rabbits thump their hind feet sharply on the ground to convey messages of anger or alarm. Originally from southwestern Europe and northwest Africa, they have followed human migrations and activities and are now found throughout the world in all climates.
There are more than 30 recognized species as well as numerous domesticated breeds that are raised for their meat and fur, for use in scientific research and as pets and show animals.
In the wild, they are a favorite prey species. It is estimated that some 90 percent of the young are killed by predators. The list of their predators is very long and includes owls, hawks, eagles, wild dogs, feral cats, foxes and weasels.
When danger is perceived, the general tendency of a rabbit is to freeze and hide under cover. A frightened rabbit can leap 10 feet or more and can travel as fast as 25 miles per hour for a short distance before tiring. It uses a zigzagging movement to try and confuse its enemy.
A female rabbit (doe) is able to start breeding at a very young age. A male rabbit (buck) does not assist in the rearing of the young. Even the mothers are remarkably inattentive to their young and commonly nurse them only once per day and for just a few minutes. To compensate for this, the milk of rabbits is highly nutritious and among the richest of all mammals. The young grow rapidly and most are weaned in about a month.
Rabbits are known to be able to live for about nine years. Instead of sound, scent seems to play an important role in rabbit communication. They have well-developed glands that they rub on fixed objects to convey identity of sex, age, social and reproductive status, and territory ownership. Urine is also an important component of their communication system.