Rabbits are small mammals with large rear feet and short, fluffy tails. Using their powerful hind legs, rabbits hop, run in spurts, and rapidly change direction. Humans raise rabbits as pets, or for the meat or fur industry. Domestic rabbits are descended from wild European rabbits.
What They Eat
Rabbits are herbivores, or plant-eaters. Their long front teeth make it easy for them to tear tender leaves and grass. Domestic rabbits generally eat pelletized feed and hay, along with fresh vegetables and plenty of water.
Where They Live
Wild rabbits live in a wide range of habitats, from arctic tundra, to swamps and deserts. Domestic rabbits originally lived only in Europe, but are now found wherever humans live. Around the world, rabbits are adapted to their environment. In warmer climates, for example, rabbits have longer ears that help to keep them cool.
What They Do
Domestic rabbits are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk. At night, they spend their time eating, drinking, and grooming themselves. During the day, they often nap.
How They’re Doing
There are approximately 50 distinct breeds of domestic rabbit. Some breeds, such as the American Chinchilla rabbit, are rare. A number of the domestic rabbit’s wild relatives, including the Riverine rabbit of South Africa and the Tehuantepec jackrabbit of Mexico, are in danger of extinction.
The Wells Fargo Family Farm at the Minnesota Zoo is home to a small herd of domestic rabbits. Visitors may be allowed to pet the rabbits in the Rabbitry with help from Zoo staff and volunteers. Visitors may also peek into nest boxes to see litters of newborns, or kits.
Meet the Animals
The domestic rabbits at the Wells Fargo Family Farm belong to the German/English Angora and New Zealand breeds.
- German/English Angora – Angora rabbits are easily distinguished from other breeds due to their long, soft coats. They are a fiber producing breed and require daily grooming to maintain their luxurious coat. Their wool requires harvesting every 3-4 months.
- New Zealand – Despite their name, New Zealand rabbits originated in the United States. Approximately 90% of rabbits raised for meat are of the New Zealand breed. On average they weigh 10-12 pounds. The New Zealand breed is also known for their calm temperament and their social nature.
Care at the Wells Fargo Family Farm
Rabbits at the Minnesota Zoo are cared for from birth. Kits (baby rabbits) are very vulnerable. Does (females) are transferred to nest boxes inside their hutches a little less than one month after breeding and before giving birth, or kindling.
Nest boxes are filled with soft materials, such as clean, dry hay and straw. The doe will burrow, forming a warm nest in the box. She will line the nest with fur pulled from her chest and belly.
Zoo staff make sure that nest boxes stay clean, replacing soiled bedding. They ensure that kits are warm and dry.
Rabbit kits are born without fur and with their eyes closed. Unlike their hare cousins—born with fur and with eyes open—kits cannot hop shortly after birth.
Kits eat feed pellets and drink water once they leave the nest box. They will continue to nurse until they are about eight weeks old.
Weaned male and female kits are separated. Females are able to breed before they are fully grown. Most female and male kits born at the Wells Fargo Family Farm are sold shortly after weaning.
The rabbits in Zoomobile, or the Outreach Education Department have been handled since they were very young. These ambassador animals are trained by Outreach staff to use a crate, interact with people and travel comfortably in Zoomobile vans.
Meet the Animals
Outreach has two rabbit breeds that it utilizes for programs around the state of Minnesota and at the Minnesota Zoo. These breeds are very different, in both their size and their individual temperaments.
- Holland Lop— Holland Lops are a small variety of rabbit, weighing just 2–4 pounds. Known for being full of energy and having a sweet temperament, this is one of the most popular pet rabbit breeds in the United States.
- Flemish Giant— Flemish Giants are one of the largest types of rabbit in the world. They can weigh over 20 pounds and measure up to 3–4 feet in length! Known for having a docile temperament, these rabbits are sometimes referred to as “gentle giants.”
- A rabbit’s ears can work like air-conditioners. Along with providing an excellent range of hearing, long rabbit ears also have a large surface area, which helps with body cooling.
- A rabbit’s eyes are located high on the sides of its head, giving it a wide range of vision, particularly up and to the sides. Rabbits have a blind spot, however, in the front of their faces. For this reason, humans should not offer their hands to a rabbit to sniff, as they might to a dog or cat.
- The order Lagomorpha consists of two families. The family Ochotonidae includes hamster-like animals called pikas, and the family Leporidae, contains wild and domestic rabbits and hares.
- Rabbits differ in important ways from hares. Rabbits are born nearly helpless—blind, deaf, and without fur. In contrast, baby hares are precocial. They are born with fur and open eyes. Hares can run and hop shortly after birth.
- Minnesota is home to one native wild rabbit species, the Eastern Cottontail. Cottontails live across the Americas from southern Canada to Argentina and Paraguay. Minnesota is also home to two native hare species: the showshoe, or varying hare, and the white-tailed jackrabbit. In spite of its name, the white-tailed jackrabbit is a hare, not a rabbit.
- Rabbits forage on food that is high in cellulose, and therefore difficult to digest. In order to obtain as much nutrition as possible from their food, rabbits will sometimes eat their own partially-digested, soft fecal pellets or droppings. This eating behavior is called coprophagy. Food that has gone through a rabbit’s digestive system twice is eliminated as a hard, round fecal pellet.