Call them wascally. Call them varmints. Call them a great 4-H project or a quiet pet for the apartment dweller. If you’re somebunny who loves rabbits, hop on over. You’ll enjoy this.
Let’s say you were working in your garden 48 million years ago and noticed some damage to your lettuce. Uh-oh. Once you were done hollering things we can’t print, scientists say you could have easily blamed a rabbit: By that time, bunnies had been mammals in their own right for a few million years. Even back then, says science, lagomorphs (members of the order Lagomorpha) hopped.
Hopping the globe, ancient Phoenicians spread rabbits by using them as a trade commodity, and warring Romans considered rabbits to be mobile meals. Although they are native to North America, rabbits weren’t introduced to Great Britain until the 12th century. At that time, bunnies became domesticated. Today, because of their adaptability, wild rabbits are found on every continent except Antarctica (but give them time).
Though they come in dozens of sizes, shapes and colors, all domestic rabbits are descended from the European hare. Cute as a … well, cute as a bunny, you can find pet rabbits that are 4 inches long and a few ounces, fully grown. Conversely, you can own a rabbit the size and weight of a small Cocker Spaniel.
Respect the ears
Never pick up a rabbit by its ears, and you need to respect those long appendages: Rabbit ears can rotate up to 270 degrees and allow the animal to pick up two different sounds from two different directions at the same time. Because a rabbit is unable to sweat, its ears are rich with blood vessels that dissipate heat for a hot, cross bunny. Rabbit ears, by the way, also come in all sizes and shapes: Some of the smaller breeds have un-bunny-like nubs for ears, and lop breeds have ears that flop downward. Alas, rabbit ears on your television only come in one style.
Much has been made about the rabbit’s legendary breeding ability, and for good reason. A doe rabbit can get pregnant at 3 months of age, and with gestation at just 28 to 32 days, she can carry several litters a year. Each litter averages four to 12 kits. The largest litter on record is 24 tiny bunlets, which leads us to this hare-raising fact: Assuming that all the offspring survive, one mating pair of rabbits could produce four million descendants in one year’s time. Wouldn’t that make you hopping mad?
Speaking of baby bunnies, one of the differences between rabbits and hares is that rabbits are born blind and naked, while hares are born with hair and can see at birth.
A bunny’s appetite
Gardeners know all too well what rabbits like to eat, but most people don’t know that rabbits also like bananas, mint, bok choy, papayas and pineapples. Though you might consider this an ultra-healthy diet, you shouldn’t be surprised if Bugs eats his own droppings, too. Rabbits have digestive systems similar to cows, but instead of chewing cud, they re-ingest certain nutrients through soft fecal matter. Despite that – which is pretty icky – rabbits don’t have the ability to vomit.
But let’s say you’ve been charmed by a bunny and found yourself a new pet. Rabbits are clean and quiet, although they can purr, scream, snore and snort in certain circumstances. They’re perfectly happy to live in a cage, which is a good thing: Pet rabbits chew and can be destructive, and unaltered males will spray their territory. If you’ve got patience, you can teach a rabbit to “beg,” use a litter box, enjoy being held, play with toys and come when it’s called … all of which means that a rabbit is no dumb bunny!
Terri Schlichenmeyer, book reviewer and trivia collector, lives in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.