RABBIT, a name, when properly used, re stricted to a single species (Lepus cuniculus) of the rodent family, LePoridce, to which the na tive American hares also belong. The rabbit is of European origin, and, although found wild in many places, is better known in the domesticated or semi-domesticated state in which it has been introduced into the United States. Although the habits of the rabbit af ford the best distinction from the hares, the wild species exhibits some structural character istics, among which are its generally smaller size, the shorter ears of uniform brown color and the shorter limbs. The hind legs in the hares are proportionally longer than in the rabbits, and the eyes are larger and more promi nent than in the latter animal. The face is also narrower and the sktill'lighter in the rabbit. The rabbit's fur in its native state is of a nearly uniform brown color, while under domes tication the color may become pure white, coal black, piebald, gray and other hues. The texture of the fur also changes under domestication.
Unlike the hares, which construct only sim ple nests or forms, the rabbit lives permanently in underground burrows, large colonies of which are often to be found in some dry sandy bank overgrown with furze or brush, or other similar locality. Such °warrens* are often specially set apart for them in order that they may breed and multiply for the market, their flesh being excellent as food, and their fur and skins of value. The burrows are irregularly disposed, and communicate freely with each other. Rab bits are extremely prolific, and begin to breed when about six months old. They may breed six or eight times a year, producing from five to seven or eight at a birth.
The parturient rabbit excavates a special bur row or tunnel for herself in which to give birth to and shelter her progeny, the nest being lined by down plucked from her own body. The young are hairless when born and have their eyes closed. The eyes open about the tenth or twelfth day. These animals feed on tender grass and herbage, and sometimes do great dam age to young trees by stripping them of their bark.
These animals grow exceedingly tame and domesticated, and may exhibit no small degree of intelligence. They are snared, taken by fer rets and nets or may be shot. Rabbits are subject to certain diseases, such as rot, para sitic worms and a kind of madness. The original home of the rabbit is believed to have been those parts of Europe and Africa around the western half of the Mediterranean, where it still abounds, but it is now widely spread throughout temperate western Europe, and has been conveyed by man to such distant lands as Australian colonies, Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands. In Australia and New Zealand it has multiplied so enormously as to have become a seriouspest to the colonists, causing immense loss and damage by eating up the pasture intended for sheep and cattle. Various methods of extermination have been tried against them, but as yet none have had more than a moderate success. Large numbers
are now killed and exported as food, frozen or otherwise preserved, and millions of skins are annually shipped to Europe and the United States. In some parts of South and Central America, and especially in Jamaica, the domestic rabbit has been introduced and established in the wild state. Darwin records several cases where quite distinct races of rabbits have re sulted from their isolation on islands. An Asiatic species (L. hispidus) is closely related to the European rabbit, and a so-called tailless rabbit (Rouserotagus) has been described from the region of Mount Popocatapetl in Mexico. It is peculiar in the possession of well-developed clavicles. All the domestic breeds or rabbits appear to have been derived from the feral species of southern Europe; and have been but little influenced by occasional crosses with bares. The Chinese, as early as the time of Confucius, appear to have bred rabbits for sacrificial purposes; and domesticated varieties were mentioned by classical Greek and Roman writers. The most noteworthy under domestication has been the great increase in size and weight, the latter having been raised from three pounds in the wild rabbit to as much as 18 pounds in the Flemish giant i This variety is bred chiefly for food, but for this purpose is less esteemed than the Belgian so-called because of its large size and hare-like color, and the un founded belief that it originated from a cross between the hare and rabbit. The qualities which recommend the Belgian variety for mar+. ket breading are its extreme fecundity, the ease Frith which it may be kept in confined quarters, its rapid growth, so that it is ready for eating in about four months after birth, and the simi larity of flavor of the young to the wild rabbit. A wave of enthusiasm for Belgian hare breed. ing passed through this country a fed years ago, but has largely subsided, though many large rab bitries continue to supply the cities, particularly in the West. Of the purely fancy varieties the lop-ear is the most remarkable; the external ears in fine specimens measure 23 or even 24 inches long and six inches wide. The Angora, which originated in Asia Minor, has the beau tiful long, silky white hair peculiar to several animals of that region, and there and in parts of Europe is bred for its hair, which is clipped and woven into underclothes, etc. Other va rieties are peculiar chiefly in color. For meth ods of breeding, etc., consult Knight 'The Book of the Rabbit' (London 1:•:9) ; Rayson, 'Rabbits) (London 1880) ; Carnegie, 'Practical Game Preserving) ' • for history, variations, hab its, etc., Darwin, 'Animals and Plants under Domestication) (Vol. I, New York 1868) ; Palmer, 'Jack Rabbits of the United (Washington 1896) ; Reports of the Royal Commission of Inquiry on the Extermination of Rabbits in Australasia, especially that of 1890.