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European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

Diputación de Málaga
Conejo baja JDD

European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

Reproduction Zeal Topping Hibernation
Animal Life > Mammals


It is a lagomorph (animal with hare shape and two pairs of incisor teeth of continuous growth) of small size (head-body length 40 to 45 cm, height at the cross-section of 15 to 20 cm), smaller than hares. It has greyish brown fur, with a  lighter belly and throat. It has a short tail, black on the top and white on the bottom. It has large ears (7.5 to 9 cm, shorter than hares) and without black terminal spot. Its rear legs are larger than the front ones and developed for the race. A pale ring stands out around the eyes. It does not exhibit any sexual dimorphism.

Where does it live?

It prefers scrub and pasture mosaics where the herbaceous cover is not very high and feeding areas can alternate with shelter zones. It is present in meadows, herbaceous and arboreal crops, wetlands, dune zones, forest edges and even in wooded areas with shrubs or big sized bushes if the soil is soft or sandy. This animal has successfully expanded almost by any type of habitat, from sea level to high mountain. Even when the soils are not soft (a needed criteria to dig burrows), the rabbit uses the stony ground to shelter, like for example in the Malaga peridotite mountain ranges. It is abundant in ecotones zones and edge areas, such as communication route borders.

How does it live?

It is an herbivorous animal feeding on flowers, buds, herbs, seeds, stems and even bark if herbaceous vegetation is scarce. It seasonally changes its diet depending on food availability. It grazes nearby its refuge area, so its influence on the vegetation diminishes as the distance increases to that point. They are not ruminants, so to maximize nutrient absorption from vegetable food, they digest the food they eat twice, eating their excrement (cecotrophy). It is a dusk and nocturnal species, with a complex and highly hierarchical social structure organized around the burrow. They build underground shelters to reproduce and take refuge, where up to 20 individuals with very territorial family ties live: a dominant male and several adult females to mate with, subordinate males and young specimens. Its territory ranges from 0.8 to 1.2 hectares.

How does it reproduce?

Rabbits mainly mate in autumn and spring. The start of the reproductive period and sexual activity is regulated by environmental humidity, precipitation and temperature, which influences a key factor: food availability. The mating period ranges almost all year round, overlapping with the maximum food abundance. This means that in bad years (with drought), rabbits reproduce less and in good years, they can do it almost every month. They usually have 2 to 4 births a year and in each litter are born 4 to 5 young rabbits reaching sexual maturity at 4 to 7 months of age, which gives an idea of their reproductive potential. They build underground burrows in soft, well-drained soils (that do not flood). Inside the burrows there are tunnels with several mouths leading to birth or live chambers, occupied by the dominant females. The subordinate females occupy smaller galleries.

Where can we see it in Málaga?

This species is present throughout the province, being more abundant and easier to observe in areas such as the surroundings of the Fuente de Piedra lagoon, the Dunes of Artola or the mosaics of cultivation and scrub in the Antequera plains and the Genil River (northeastern Malaga region), among others. It can be found mainly in the whole Great Path (Gran Senda), although it is more common on stages 14 to 18.

Curious facts

Rabbits are considered a key species of the Mediterranean forest. They are the basic prey of a majority of predators and threatened species present in these habitats. If the rabbit, despite its ability to proliferate, is affected by external factors, the entire ecosystem may collapse. This is precisely one of the reasons for the decline of species such as the lynx or the imperial eagle, among others. For years, rabbits have been affected by two introduced diseases reducing their populations: myxomatosis in summer and hemorrhagic pneumonia in winter. To make matters worse, a third mixed disease has recently appeared and further jeopardizes rabbit populations.

Similar species

It can be mistaken with the hare. Rabbits are smaller than hares, they lack the ventral white fur hares have, and their ears are shorter and without black terminal spots. The tail is also different: black is not marked as in hares.

Routes where it can be observed

More information