In fact the name 'rabbit' was originally only applied
to a young rabbit (see below), with an adult being called a 'cony'
(above). The rabbit was introduced from France in the 12th century.
The rabbit was protected for hundreds of years by landowners who valued
it for its meat, and poaching was severely punished with even deportation....a
"Botany Bay" job..ah..ah..Jim Lad...enough of that. It became
the most familiar wild animal of the British countryside and also
one of the most destructive agricultural pests
Size and weight; The
rabbit measures about 16 inches and weighs 3 - 4 lbs. When bread for
meat, it can reach 15 lb.
has a black to buff coat, white belly and a short upturned tail. The
female or doe is smaller and has a narrower head than the buck or male.
Rabbits in the wild rarely live longer than 12 months, there is a 90%
average a doe will produce about 10 live young/year.
Gestation Period: Approximately
Sexual Maturity: Three to four months.
Range: An adult
rabbit will rarely venture firther than 200 metres from the main burrow,
but juveniles can move up to 4 kilometres at the end of the breeding
Damage: This is
estimated to run to £100 million per annum.
Food: Will eat 500
grams a day of green food, in other words they can eat up to 30% of
their own weight in grass or crops.
A social animal, the rabbit lives in
colonies in warrens. It can live almost anywhere, from sea-level to
the mountains, digging burrows on farmland, sand dunes, salt marshes,
moorland, embankments and cliffs. Empty cliff burrows are often taken
over by nesting puffins and shearwaters. The warren is dug in a haphazard
way with interconnecting tunnels, bolt runs and emergency exits (bit
of health and safety here I think). The burrows damage field boundaries
and hedges, and disturb the surrounding soil, thus encouraging the growth
of weeds such as nettles or ragwort. At breeding time the doe digs a
seperate burrow called a stop, which she lines with hay, straw and fur
from her own body. The stop may either be a 2 - 3 foot extension of
the main warren or a completely seperate excavation which may eventually
be the starting point of a new community.
Breeding may occur sporadically throughout
the year but mainly between January to June going into August if the
weather is good. A buck will mate with several does, but takes no part
in the rearing of the young and may even kill them. Each doe keeps within
her own territory in the warren. The popular notion of the rabbit's
breeding capacity is not exaggerated, for it is possible for a doe to
produce a litter of three to six young every month. However, this rarely
happens, as over half of the young conceived die before they are born,
and are reabsorbed back into the mother's body. As I said above the
average production rate is about 10 live young per year.
The young rabbits are born below ground, deaf, blind
and without fur. The doe visits her stop once a day to suckle the young
and when she leaves she blocks the entrance to conserve heat and as
a safeguard against enemies. Within a month the young are capable of
looking after themselves. They reach adult size after about nine months
but can breed after three or four months. A rabbit rarely lives more
than a year and the mortality rate of the young is high. Among their
enemies, apart from man, are cats, dogs, stoats, foxes, badgers, weasels,
owls and buzzards. At dawn and at dusk rabbits emerge from the warren
to feed. They establish clearly defined runways and communal toilets/latrines
which are often on a mole-hill...a bit of a downer for the mole..! Rabbits
do extensive damage to young trees by nibbling at the bark and eating
the shoots, and also to cereals, roots and pasture land. The short turf
on downland is the result of centuries of grazing by rabbits and sheep.
Feeding is by refection, a similar method to chewing the cud as cows
do, Food is eaten then excreted in a semi-digested form as soft moist
pellets. These are then eaten again and passed through the intestine
to be fully digested. It is the second dry pellets that are seen lying
on the ground. The myxomatosis epidemic which
began in 1954 in Britain almost wiped out the rabbit population of over
60 million, more than the human population at the time. The effects
were noticeable on crops and vegetation, and predators, such as buzzards,
declined. But the disease is no longer so leathal and the rabbit population
is increasing again. Today, rabbits are controlled by gassing them in
their warrens, ferreting, shooting and snaring. Tame rabbits also continue
to flourish and in recent years the number of rabbit farms has increased.
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© Stuart M Bennett 2001