Old World Rabbit Old World Rabbit
Old World Rabbit

Scientific Classification

Common Name
Old World rabbit, domestic rabbit, rabbit
Genus Species
Oryctolagus (digging hare) cuniculus (rabbit, or underground passage)

Fast Facts

Coat is generally grayish, with black and brown (and sometimes red) sprinkled throughout; underside of the body is pale gray; underside of the tail is white; smaller ears and shorter, less powerful legs than their relatives, the hare's.
38 to 50 cm (15.2 to 20 in.) long
1.5 to 2.5 kg (3.3 to 5.5 lbs.)
Herbivore, eating a diverse diet of grasses, leaves, buds, tree bark, and roots
30 days, 5 to 6 young (kittens)
Sexual Maturity
8 months
Life Span
Approximately 9 years
On every continent except Asia and Antarctica
Dry areas near sea level with soft, sandy soil for easy burrowing; fields for cover, but also forests; cultivated land was once well-suited, but this is no longer the case because plowing destroys rabbit burrows.
Global:  Unknown
IUCN: Not listed
CITES: Not listed
USFWS: Not listed

Fun Facts

  1. The biggest difference between a rabbit and a hare is that the young of a hare are born open-eyed and furred. The rabbit's young are born naked and with closed eyes. Hare are able to leave the nest soon after they are born, but rabbits don't open their eyes for 7 to 10 days.
  2. This single species is the ancestor of all domestic rabbits, about 80 varieties.
  3. The domestic rabbit is one of several rabbit species that are known to re-ingest feces (coprophagy) to obtain extra nourishment from their food.
  4. Newborn rabbits are called kittens.
  5. These rabbits live in groups called colonies, in large, complex burrow systems. A typical colony consists of 6 to 10 adults. Colonies have dominance hierarchies, which are important for males, because it determines which one will have first choice of a mate.
  6. This rabbit is generally nocturnal, spending its days underground and foraging from evening until morning.
  7. Though generally very quiet, rabbits are capable of making loud screams when frightened or injured. They communicate with each other through scent marking and touch. They also thump their hind limbs on the ground to warn of danger.

Ecology and Conservation

Wild rabbits are popular game animals, especially in Europe. Varieties of rabbits are raised commercially for meat, skins, and wool, as well as for pet trade. They are used extensively (about 0.5 million/year) in medical research and for testing the safety of chemicals and consumer products.

The wild, domesticated rabbit has been highly successful in most places where it has been introduced, and it is considered an agricultural pest in many areas (especially where its natural predators have been eliminated). They eat cultivated crops and compete with domestic animals for forage. Millions of dollars are spent annually in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Britain, and the United States in efforts to control, confine or exterminate them.

A number of extinctions have been reported, with many other species in steep decline, though introduced predators have undoubtedly also played a role.

On the other hand, rabbits may provide some benefits to some native species. Their burrowing loosens soil, which is helpful to certain plant and animal species, and abandoned burrows provide ready-made shelters for snakes, turtles, and other species. In addition, they are prey for a wide variety of carnivores, including canines, felines, and birds of prey.

In the 1950s, myxomatosis, a virus, began wiping out the rabbit population. When European rabbits were first exposed to the virus, the effect was devastating; in some areas the rabbit population was virtually wiped out. The rabbits that survived gradually became more resistant, but this immunity weakens over time in the absence of the virus.


Macdonald, David, Ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Facts on File Publications, New York, NY. 1984.

Parker, Sybil P., Ed. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. McGraw-Hill, Inc., New York, NY. 1990.

Interagency Education Research Initiative, the Homeland Foundation and the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/oryctolagus/o._cuniculus$narrative.html

Nowak, Ronald M., Ed. 1997. "Walker's Mammals of the World Online:Old World Rabbit, or Domestic Rabbit" (On-line), Available at http://www/press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world/lagomorpha/lagomorpha.leporidae.oryctolagus.html . (November 29, 1999)

ThinkQuest Jr. http://www.thinkquest.org/tq-junior/