R is for Rabbits.

I once owned a rabbit. Unfortunately for the rabbit, I did not get name him; that honour was bestowed upon my brother. The name my brother gave the poor creature was ‘dickhead’. I think that just about summarises my brother’s humour. Rabbits are part of the Leporidae family and therefore are related to hares and pikas. In total, there are 8 different genera of rabbit and these are found all over the world! Some are found in dense forests, others in grassland and some can even be found in desserts! The rabbit is a remarkably successful animal and has been around for millions of years.

One of the most defining features of a rabbit is their large, floppy ears. The ears of a rabbit can grow up to 4 inches long. They are thought to have evolved as a mechanism for detecting predators. The rabbits ears, unlike humans, are able to move independently of one another. This allows them to ‘tune’ their ears to certain areas and will help them locate certain sounds. Another well known titbit about rabbits is that they are a hind-gut digester.  This means that most of their digestion takes place in their large intestine and the caecum. One adaptation for this is that a rabbit’s caecum is ten times larger than their stomach. The caecum, along with the large intestine, make up to 40% of the rabbit’s digestive tract! The caecum is absolutely essential for the rabbit. It has a unique musculature which allows the rabbit to separate the fibrous material from the more digestible stuff.  This way of digesting food means that the rabbit produces highly ‘nutritious’ faeces. This means to extract the most nutrients from their food, a rabbit will re-eat their faecal matter  in order to reabsorb some of the excess nutrients.

The average lifespan of a rabbit can range from 8-12 years. The official world record for the oldest rabbit is 18 years old – despite this, I don’t think the rabbit has taken to drinking yet. Rabbits are often effected by different diseases. One of the most common is myxomatosis. This disease is caused by the virus myxoma and is only found in rabbits. In North America, the effects of myxoma are quite mild; for most it is just a few spots appearing on their skin. However, in Europe, myoxmatosis is much more severe. The first signs of the disease in European rabbits is a swelling around the head and genital areas. It then becomes more extreme and can cause blindness and a loss of appetite and a fever. In most cases, the rabbits become so diseased that they die – either from road traffic accidents or from secondary bacterial infections. The prognosis for most rabbits suffering from the disease is between 24 hours and 14 days.

Rabbits are frequently featured in pop culture. Perhaps the most famous is Bugs Bunny. His popularity can be seen in a recent poll by TV Guide who voted Bugs are the #1 greatest cartoon character of all time! Bugs has won numerous film and television awards and is extremely popular worldwide. He is one of only a few select animated characters who has been given his own star in Hollywood. There is some confusion as to whether Bugs is a rabbit or a hare. The most obvious way to differentiate between rabbits and hares (and why there’s confusion about Bugs)  is by looking at their young. A rabbit’s young are altricial. This means that the young are born blind and without fur; being entirely dependant on the mother. This contrasts to a hare whose young are precocial: with vision and fur.

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