Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae of the order Lagomorpha, found in several parts of the world. There are seven different genera in the family classified as rabbits, including the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), cottontail rabbit (genus Sylvilagus; 13 species), and the Amami rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi, endangered species on Amami Ōshima, Japan). There are many other species of rabbit, and these, along with cottontails, pikas, and hares, make up the order Lagomorpha. Rabbits generally live between four and twenty years. A rabbit's gestation period is 28 to 31 days.
Rabbits are herbivores who feed by grazing on grass and leafy
weeds. Rather than chewing the cud as do cows and many other
herbivores, rabbits reingest their own droppings in order to
fully digest their food and extract sufficient nutrients.
Rabbits graze heavily and rapidly for roughly the first half hour of a grazing period (usually in the late afternoon), followed by about half an hour of more selective feeding. In this time, the rabbit will also excrete many hard faecal pellets, being waste pellets that will not be reingested. If the environment is relatively non-threatening, the rabbit will remain outdoors for many hours, grazing at intervals. While out of the burrow, the rabbit will occasionally reingest its soft, partially digested pellets; this is rarely observed, since the pellets are reingested as they are produced. Reingestion is most common within the burrow between 8 o'clock in the morning and 5 o'clock in the evening, being carried out intermittently within that period.
Hard pellets are made up of hay-like fragments of plant cuticle and stalk, being the final waste product after redigestion of soft pellets. These are only released outside the burrow and are not reingested. Soft pellets are usually produced several hours after grazing, after the hard pellets have all been excreted. They are made up of micro-organisms and undigested plant cell walls, and are surrounded by a mucous membrane which remains unbroken during reingestion; the rabbit swallows the soft pellets whole. The pellets are about 56% bacteria by dry weight, largely accounting for the pellets being 24.4% protein on average. These pellets remain intact for up to six hours in the stomach, the bacteria within continuing to digest the plant carbohydrates. Eventually the pellets dissolve, releasing easily absorbed nutrients. This process serves the same purpose within the rabbit as rumination does in cattle and sheep. 
Rabbits are clearly distinguished from hares in that rabbits are altricial, having young that are born blind and hairless. In contrast, hares are generally born with hair and are able to see (precocial). All rabbits (except the cottontail rabbit) live underground in burrows or warrens, while hares live in simple nests above the ground (as does the cottontail rabbit), and usually do not live in groups. Hares are generally larger than rabbits, with longer ears, and have black markings on their fur. Hares have not been domesticated, while rabbits are often kept as house pets. In gardens, they are typically kept in hutches –small, wooden, house-like boxes– that protect the rabbits from the environment and predators.
Leporids such as European rabbits and hares are a food meat in
Europe, South America, North America, some parts of the Middle
East, and China, among other places.
Rabbit meat was once commonly sold in Sydney, Australia, the sellers of which giving the name to the rugby league team the South Sydney Rabbitohs, but quickly became unpopular after the disease myxomatosis was introduced in an attempt to wipe out the feral rabbit population (see also Rabbits in Australia).
Rabbit is still commonly sold in UK butchers and markets, although not frequently in supermarkets. At Farmers markets and the famous Borough Market in London, rabbits will be displayed dead and hanging unbutchered in the traditional style next to braces of Pheasant and other small game.
When used for food, rabbits are both hunted and bred for meat. Snares or guns along with dogs are usually employed when catching wild rabbits for food. In many regions, rabbits are also bred for meat, a practice called cuniculture. Rabbits can then be killed by hitting the back of their heads, a practice from which the term rabbit punch is derived. Rabbit meat is a good source of high quality protein. It can be used in most ways chicken meat is used. Rabbit meat is leaner than beef, pork, and chicken meat. Rabbit products are generally labelled in three ways, the first being Fryer. This is a young rabbit between 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 pounds, and up to 12 weeks in age. This type of meat is tender and fine grained. The next product is a Roaster, they are usually over 4 pounds and over 8 months in age. The flesh is firm and coarse grained and less tender than a fryer. Then there are giblets which include the liver and heart. One of the most common type of rabbit to be bred for meat is New Zealand white rabbit.
Rabbit pelts are sometimes used in for clothing and accessories, such as scarves or hats. Rabbits are very good producers of manure; additionally, their urine, being high in nitrogen, makes lemon trees very productive. Their milk may also be of great medicinal or nutritional benefit due to its high protein content (see links below).
There are a number of health issues associated with the use of rabbits for meat, one of which is Tularemia or Rabbit Fever. Another is so-called rabbit starvation, due most likely to essential amino acid deficiencies in rabbit meat and synthesis limitations in human beings.
This Rabbit Page is Copyright The Animal Web Guide © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub