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  • Writer's pictureWildlife Friendly Otley

European Rabbit - April 2022

There are more than 30 species of rabbit around the world, the one we see in Otley is the European rabbit. Whilst not native, actually introduced by the Normans for food and fur are now widely naturalised across the UK. Now is a good time to see them as they are breeding like rabbits with the coming of spring. European rabbits have long ears without black tips and long hind legs; their colouring is sandy and less reddish than brown hare. The rabbit is smaller than the hare and has a bobbing gait, rather than the loping gait that hares have.

Whilst European rabbits seem common enough around Otley, globally they are considered ‘Near Threatened,’ this is because of they are not doing so well in their native range of the semi-arid regions of Iberian Peninsula (i.e. Spain and Portugal) in southwestern Europe, and Morocco and Algeria on north African continent. In the 1940s numbers were so high here in the UK and the damage to crops so significant that the myxomatosis virus was introduced, resulting in the population crashing by some 99% in only a couple of years!

It is thought that between 70–95% of rabbits perish in their first few months. Kits born early, during the first flush of spring, have the best chance of seeing out the year, possibly because their predators have not yet begun to hunt to feed their own young. Rabbits, especially kits have a lot of predators, they face danger in all directions, including from buzzards in the air, and from foxes, polecats, badgers, stoats and even tiny weasels on the ground. Not to mention the internal battle they must contend with of myxomatosis and haemorrhagic diseases.

The European rabbit is well known for digging networks of burrows, called warrens, where they spend most of their time when not feeding. A typical warren is home to between six and ten adults of both sexes. Colonies have distinct dominance hierarchies, which are particularly important for males, as dominance position determines which male will have preferential access to mates. Male rabbits are called bucks; females are called does. An older term for an adult rabbit is coney, while rabbit referred only to the young animals. Though generally silent, rabbits are capable of making loud screams when frightened or injured. They communicate with each other through scent cues and touch, and thump their hind limbs on the ground to warn of danger.


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