Rabbits thrive in the UK, although they are not a native species. They were initially from Europe and brought here for food and fur in the 12th Century. The rabbit, however, rapidly adapted to its new environment. There are now approximately 40 million wild rabbits in the UK. Despite such large numbers rabbits often remain hidden, due to their nocturnal habits and general shyness.
6 rabbit facts:
Rabbits are mostly silent, communicating instead with scent. The rabbit has scent glands in various spots on its body, which it rubs against objects such as fence posts or trees to leave a scent marker for other rabbits. This conveys territorial as well as breeding information. Another method of communication used by rabbits is the thumping of their foot on the ground, which is used as a warning sign.
Their diet is entirely herbivorous, meaning they eat only plant matter. Grasses make up a lot of their diet, along with clover. Rabbits also engage in a practice known as ‘refection’ – the re-swallowing of their own faeces to obtain as much nutrients from their food as possible. Rabbits re-swallow up to 80% of their own faeces.
Rabbits reproduce rapidly, which has led to the massive numbers of rabbits living in the wild today. Rabbits produce 4 or 5 litters a year, with up to 7 young in each litter. Baby rabbits are called kittens and are born blind, hairless and completely helpless. They grow rapidly, however, and are usually weaned within about a month.
Foxes and stoats are the main predator of rabbits, although young rabbits may be at risk from owls and other birds of prey. Rabbits rely on hiding to avoid predators, keeping incredibly still to avoid being seen, but will also run in an erratic motion to evade capture.
Rabbits are burrowers, digging out tunnels for their living quarters. Their nest will be at the end of a tunnel around a metre long, lined with moss, grass and belly fur for warmth. Rabbits are quite social, often living in groups of around 20 individuals. This sociability, however, has helped to diminish their numbers as myxomatosis spreads from rabbit to rabbit. Many wild rabbits have developed an immunity to myxomatosis, however.
Rabbits became popular as pets in the 19th Century. Their popularity boomed again in the 1980s, when they became ‘house-pets’. Although rabbits can be ‘house trained’, they still have specific needs and can become destructive in a house that doesn’t cater adequately for them.