Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hopping Rabbits

Hi everyone! As usual, let's start off with some updates before diving (or should I say, “hopping”) into my topic of the week.

Days Till
It is: 25 days till St. Patrick's Day

In the Spotlight
This week, another production photo has been shown to the public from the set of the upcoming movie Jurassic World! Since Universal hasn't revealed what the set is for, and since it isn't anywhere near finished with construction, we can only guess what this set will become. Personally, I think it's an animal paddock. What do you think?

What is this set for in Jurassic World?
Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan

Spring is finally around the corner, and that's a likely time to find an animal loved (and hated) by millions – members of the Leporidae family, otherwise known simply as rabbits. There are around 40-60 species of these fluffy, hopping mammals all over the world. They are found on almost every continent and live in a variety of different habitats. You can't help but wonder who couldn't possibly love these animals . . . yet some folks do.

It's actually quite obvious why rabbits are loved by just about everyone . . . they're so CUTE!!!
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, rabbits can be found on every continent, except for Antarctica. As with other creatures of the land, it says in the Bible that God created rabbits on the sixth day of the creation week, just before He created mankind (Gen. 1:24-25). We all know what rabbits look like, but what exactly are they? Despite their similar appearance and large buckteeth at the front of the mouth, rabbits are not rodents (they used to be classified as rodents until 1912). One key difference that separates rabbits from rodents is that rabbits have two sets of incisor teeth, one behind of the other. Speaking of what a rabbit is and what it isn't, did you know that hares are also not rabbits.

Did you know that rabbits were once classified as rodents?
There are many different kinds of rabbits, but they all share similar features and body designs. They can grow anywhere between eight to twenty inches in length and weigh 0.4-2 kilograms. These mammals aren't very large at all! The characteristic ears of a rabbit can grow four inches long! Their size makes them perfect for hearing what's going on around them. Have you ever wondered why rabbits have eyes on the sides of their heads, rather than pointing forwards as in humans? Well, this is because they need to have all-around vision to spot predators from afar. We humans have eyes at the front of our heads because we need to be able to judge distance (think of what might happen if we had eyes on the sides of our heads while driving!), something rabbits have no need for.

A rabbit's eyes are on the sides of its head so that it can see in almost all directions at once.
Rabbits are herbivorous and will eat just about any plant-based food they can find, including grass forbs, and leafy weeds. A problem many animals have as herbivores is that though plentiful, plants in general are very hard to digest due to the amount of cellulose their food contains (and that also means the nutrients the animals need is harder to digest as well). Some creatures deal with this by having a strong digestive system, others, like cows, chew the cud – they eat their food, swallow it, then regurgitate it later to chew and re-swallow. Other animals, such as rabbits, have another solution – instead of chewing the cud, they wait until they've defecated and . . . yes, they eat their own feces! This behavior is known in many animals, from monkeys to elephants, and is called “coprophagy”. This way, the rabbit gets to re-digest its food and therefore gets to extract the nutrients it needs. So what happens after the rabbit eats its droppings? That's why rabbits have two types of dung – one, which they re-eat, and another type which has already been re-eaten and is simply left to disintegrate.

Because they aren't often found in the wild, carrots aren't normally consumed by rabbits. But if you offer a rabbit one, you can bet it will chomp it down in a heartbeat!
Rabbits can be found in just about any habitat on earth, but more than half of the population of rabbits is found in North America. One of the most common rabbit species found in both North and South America is the cottontail rabbit, and this species has many different subspecies that dwell in various habitats. Some of which include the Desert cottontail, Swamp rabbit, Marsh rabbit, Venezuelan lowland rabbit and the most famous of them all, the Eastern cottontail. Another well-known rabbit species is the European or common rabbit. Despite its name, it has been reintroduced to many locations on the planet, from the Americas to Australia.

Rabbits can be found in just about any habitat on earth, from the hot ones like where this Desert Cottontail is . . .
. . . to the cold ones.
You can't really talk about rabbits without including the topic of their reproduction! As we all can testify, rabbits breed like . . . well, as the saying goes, “like rabbits”. In fact, when 24 European rabbits were first released into Australia in 1859, their numbers zoomed up to over 600 million in less than a century! After a male rabbit (called a buck), has mated with a female rabbit (called a doe), the doe will have a gestation period of around 31 days – sometimes as few as 29 days or as high as 35 days. Another reason they breed so fast is because they have so many young at one time: litter sizes generally vary from just two to 12 baby rabbits. Since male rabbits are called bucks and female rabbits are called does (that's “doe” with an “s”, not “duz”), the baby rabbits are called fawns, right? WRONG! They're actually called kits or kittens! Go figure! After the doe has kittens in her burrow, the young are born bare and blind. Within four weeks, they're finished with suckling milk from their mother and can have kittens of their own at three to four months of age! One doe rabbit can have up to around 40 kittens per year and can be continuously for up to eight months. No wonder they breed fast!

Baby rabbits are called "kittens"!
Rabbits and humans have a long history going back at least 3,000 years and we've loved and hated them ever since. To many, the rabbit is considered a pest, and with good reason! In 1859, 24 European rabbits were released into the wilds of Australia. This was a BIG mistake! Pretty soon, their numbers rose into the hundreds of millions and they ate so much food, that they began to out-compete native animals like the biliby, also known as the Macrotis (which are making a comeback thanks to government protection). Initially, people tried placing rabbit-proof fences to keep the rabbits from invading more and more of Australia. This was a good way to keep the rabbits from hopping to new areas, but since the rabbits could dig, the fences were useless. In the 1950's, we finally found a way to keep the Australian rabbit number down with the use of a virus called Myxomatosis cuniiculi, but most rabbits today have grown immune to that and so they're now using the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus, which has been declared as a safe way to keep the numbers of those Australian-invading rabbits down. This is a good thing for the biliby!

If not for conservation, bilibies might have been pushed into extinction by rabbits.
Despite the fact that many people view them as pests, rabbits are still loved by many as pets and, more bizarrely food. It's often prepared in many of the same ways chicken is; it might be interesting to know that chef Mark Bittman declares that rabbits taste like chicken.

So there you have it: you've probably learned many new facts about rabbits in this article. Now that we know rabbits better, get “hopping” outside this spring to see what species of rabbits live near you!

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1 comment:

  1. My sister has a dwarf rabbit! It's almost a year old. Of course, I'm sure I've already told you that.