|Rabbit usually refers to the European Rabbit, Oryctolagus
cuniculus, a native of southern Europe. It is also widely introduced elsewhere
in northern Europe and Australia (see also Rabbit (ecology) for details
of it as a pest species in areas where it is not native).
Rabbits in the wild
The European Rabbit is a small grey-brown mammal, ranging from 34-45 cm in length, and are approximately 1.3-2.2 kg in weight. They have 4 sharp incisors (2 on top, 2 on bottom) that grow continuously throughout their life, and two peg teeth on the top behind the inscisors, dissimilar to those of rodents (which have only 2 each, top and bottom). Rabbits have long ears, large hind legs, and short fluffy tails. Rabbits move by hopping, using their long and powerful hind legs. To facilitate quick movement, rabbit hind feet have a thick padding of fur to dampen the shock of rapid hopping. Their toes are long, and are webbed to keep themselves from spreading apart as they jump.
They are well-known for digging networks of burrows called warrens, where they spend most of their time when not feeding. Unlike the related hares (Lepus), rabbits are altricial, the young being born blind and furless, in a furlined nest in the warren, and totally dependent upon their mother.
Related species & classification
A number of other species within the family Leporidae are also called rabbits, but usually with an additional distinguishing name, notably the cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus), a closely related American genus with thirteen species, the Amami Rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi), and the jackrabbits, which are actually hares, in the genus Lepus.
Rabbits and hares were formerly classified in the order Rodentia until 1912, when they were moved into a new order Lagomorpha. This order, in addition to containing rabbits and hares, also includes the pikas.
Rabbits as an exotic species
Rabbits have been introduced as an exotic species into a number of environments, with baleful results to vegetation and local wildlife. Locations include Laysan Island (1903) and Lisianski Island, parts of the Hawaiian Islands; Macquaire Islands, southwest of New Zealand; Smith Island, San Juan Islands, Washington (around 1900) later spreading to the other San Juan Islands; Australia and New Zealand. Rabbits were introduced to Australia in 1859 by Thomas Austin an estate holder in Victoria. They soon spread thoughout the country, see rabbit (ecology). During the 1950s experiments with introduction of a virus, Myxomatosis cuniiculi provided some relief in Australia but not in New Zealand where the insect vectors necessary for spread of the disease were not present.