This video covers some facts you need to know about wild European rabbits, including what they eat, where they live, how long they live for, how they breed and much more.
Here is the script from the video:
Despite their familiarity and apparent commonness around the UK countryside, European rabbits are actually a non native species that was first bought to the country almost 2000 years ago by the romans. It isn’t clear if this is when rabbits colonised the wild but they were definitely here in significant numbers by the end of the 12th century.
European rabbits are the ancestors of house rabbits which can be found in a wide variety of colours but naturally they are a grey brown colour with lighter fur underneath and a white underside to their tail. They can grow to weigh up to 2 and a half kilos and to measure about 40cm from head to tail. Rabbits are famed for their long ears and European rabbits are no exception, with adults ears growing to around 7cm in length which is about the same length as their entire heads.
Rabbits usually live in colonies with multiple females which are known as does living with a dominant male which is known as a buck alongside several subordinate males which often live on the outskirts of the territory. These colonies can be anywhere where the ground is soft enough for the rabbits to dig their underground burrows, usually around farmlands, deciduous woodland and coastal sand dunes and occasionally amongst human developments too. Each burrow within a colony often connects underground to others and the entire network is known as a warren. The rabbits spend a lot of their time in these warrens where they store food, sleep and give birth to their young. The main reason they emerge is to find food. This food includes leaves, shoots, grass, bark and bulbs which the rabbits chew using their ever growing front incisors. With most species this is the end of the story but not with rabbits. As their food is quite hard to digest they cannot extract all the nutrients from it the first time round so actually eat their own faeces to digest it a second time. This process is known as coprophagy.
There is a famous saying: to breed like rabbits and this is no misnomer. European rabbits have the ability to breed very quickly and in good conditions their populations can explode over a short period of time. They can become pregnant at just 3 months of age. Pregnancy lasts just 28 days after which the does give birth to around 5 hairless and blind young known as kits. This normally happens underground in a nest made of hay and lined with fur. The kits grow fast on their mothers milk and after just 3 weeks they are mobile and able to leave the warren on their own in search of food. This early independence means the mother can become pregnant again and raise another litter in quick succession. In good years they can have as many as 5 litters in just 12 months.
Over the last couple of decades rabbit populations in the UK have declined by around 60%. This has been in part caused by the man made myxomatosis virus but they have also suffered from other diseases, a reduction in suitable habitats and increasing numbers of predators. Despite this population decline there are currently an estimated 37 million rabbits in the wild here. If they manage to avoid predation and disease, rabbits can live for up to nine years.
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