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rabbit, name for herbivorous mammals of the family Leporidae, which also includes the hare and the pika. Rabbits and hares have large front teeth, short tails, and large hind legs and feet adapted for running or jumping. In most, the length of the ears is considerably greater than the width. Although usage varies, the term rabbit generally refers to small, running animals, with relatively short ears and legs, which give birth to blind, naked young, while hare refers to larger, hopping forms, with longer ears and legs, whose young are born furred and open-eyed. Rabbits are chiefly nocturnal, although they are sometimes seen in the daytime. They have acute senses of smell and hearing. They feed on a wide variety of vegetation and are responsible in many areas for the stunted nature of the ground cover. When feeding on green herbage, rabbits, like hares, excrete soft pellets which they reingest; the waste products of the redigested food are excreted as dry pellets. Wild rabbits are frequently infected with tularemia, which is dangerous to humans.

The European Common Rabbit

The European common rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, is native to S Europe and Africa, but is now found, in its domestic varieties, throughout the world; wild varieties have also been introduced in some places, such as England. All domestic rabbits, including the so-called Belgian hare, belong to this species. Wild common rabbits are up to 16 in. (41 cm) long and usually weigh 2 to 3 lb (0.9–1.4 kg). They have soft, thick fur, usually grayish brown above and white below. The tail is usually carried upright when the animal runs, exposing the white undersurface. Common rabbits live in elaborate systems of adjoining burrows called warrens. The young are suckled in a special burrow, dug by the mother at a distance from the warren and lined with a nest of her own fur. The entrance to this burrow is plugged with earth when she is away. Domestic rabbits, which may be various colors but are commonly white, are bred for food and for their fur, which is much used in making fur trim and felt. They are also frequently used as laboratory animals and are kept as pets.

New World Rabbits

The New World genus Sylvilagus includes the many species of cottontail rabbit, which resemble the European rabbit in appearance, as well as the marsh rabbit and swamp rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris and S. aquaticus, respectively), of the S United States. These rabbits do not burrow, although in winter they may shelter in a burrow abandoned by another animal. They usually rest, like hares, in hollows which they make in the ground or in vegetation. The Idaho pygmy rabbit, Brachylagus idahoensis, of the U.S. Great Basin, digs simple burrows. The many North American species called jackrabbit are actually hares, as is the snowshoe rabbit, or varying hare. There are several species of short-eared rabbits in Asia and one, the volcano rabbit, or Mexican pygmy rabbit (Romerolagus diazi), in central Mexico, where it is in danger of extinction.


The reproductive rate of rabbits is notorious. The common rabbit breeds from February to October; its gestation period is 30 days and there are five to eight young in a litter. In most regions its numbers are kept down by its many predators, such as the fox, the badger, and birds of prey. However, when domestic rabbits escaped in Australia, where they had few natural enemies, they ran rampant and stripped the countryside of vegetation in many regions. They were brought partially under control by the artificial introduction of a viral disease, myxomatosis.


Rabbits are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Lagomorpha, family Leporidae.


See S. Lumpkin and J. Seidensticker, Rabbits (2011).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


As Easter approaches images of rabbits pop up everywhere, in advertising displays, on greeting cards, and in candy shops. The rabbit indeed has become a symbol of the holiday. America inherited this symbol from its European immigrants. A slight change accompanied this transfer of folklore, however. In Europe's German-speaking lands, the hare, not the rabbit, delivers colored eggs and sweets to children at Easter time. In the United States people have tended to lump hares and rabbits together. In fact they are separate species. This confusion over names has resulted in much of the imported European folklore concerning the hare transferring itself to the American rabbit (see also Easter Bunny).

Hares and Rabbits

Although hares and rabbits are similar in appearance and are closely related, important differences separate the two species. Hares belong to the genus Lepus. They have large ears, short tails, and long, strong hind legs and feet. Due to the fact that their eyes are placed so far back on their head, they can see in front, behind, and overhead all at the same time. Hares move about by hopping. They can cover 12 feet in a single, long jump, but when escaping predators they have been known to propel themselves as far as 20 feet in a single leap. Hares can run faster than almost any other animal, and have been clocked at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour. Even when running at top speed, hares can turn sharp corners without slowing down or come to a sudden, complete stop.

Hares have one unusual habit. They sometimes leap several feet straight up in the air in order to survey their surroundings. This leaping behavior is exaggerated in the month of March, when the mating season begins. The males often leap high into the air, as they fight one another for the right to mate with the females. Sometimes males and females court by leaping at and boxing with one another. These behaviors gave rise to the saying "mad as a March hare." Perhaps they also inspired the expression "harebrained," meaning rash or giddy.

Unlike hares, true rabbits are native only to Europe and Africa, although human beings have spread them around the world. Biologists classify these mammals as belonging to the genus Orycytologus and the species cuniculus. They differ from hares in a number of ways. Rabbits are sociable animals that live in crowded underground burrows called "warrens." Hares live on their own in "forms," or nests, hidden in tall grass. Rabbits scurry into their underground dens to escape predators while hares outrun them. Moreover, rabbits are runners whereas hares are leapers. Hares are wild animals, while rabbits have been successfully domesticated. Unlike hares, rabbits are born without fur and with closed eyes. Rabbits dislike getting their fur wet, but hares don't seem to mind water and are excellent swimmers.

Americans tend to confuse hares, rabbits, and related species, calling all of them "rabbits." For example, the Jackrabbit and the Snowshoe Rabbit, found in the north and west of the United States, are, in fact, hares. Many call the eastern cottontail a rabbit, although it actually belongs to a different genus and species than does the European rabbit. Biologists know it as Sylvilagus floridanus.

Contemporary American Folklore

This confusion of names may help to explain why the old, European folklore concerning hares attached itself to the animal known generically to Americans as the rabbit. For example, Americans view the hare, or rabbit, as a symbol of sexuality. Indeed, Playboy magazine calls its models "bunnies" and uses the figure of a rabbit's ears as a symbol on its merchandise. Rabbits continue to enjoy a well-deserved reputation for fertility. This reputation links the rabbit symbolically to springtime, the season of new life and new growth. Many Americans see the Easter Bunny primarily as a symbol of springtime.

Although European folklore has pictured the hare as both lucky and unlucky, Americans tend to view rabbits as lucky animals. A rabbit's foot is a well-known good luck charm, and untold numbers of these severed appendages dangle from key chains and car rearview mirrors. Rabbits may also be invoked for good luck at the beginning of a new month, or new moon. The word "rabbits" or "white rabbits" must be the very first words spoken during this period in order to acquire the luck. For example, upon waking up on the first day of a new moon, one should exclaim, "White rabbits!" Some people add that in order to ensure the turn of luck the last words one speaks before going to sleep on the previous night should be "Black rabbits!"

In recent times the rabbit has taken on a relatively new identity as a suitable childhood companion and child-friendly animal. Nineteenthand twentieth-century writers and tellers of folktales helped to shape this image of the rabbit in the United States and Europe. A number of classic children's stories and folktales from this era introduce rabbits as main characters. Examples include Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adven- tures in Wonderland (1865), featuring the White Rabbit and the March Hare, Beatrix Potter's Tale of Peter Rabbit (1901), Margery Williams's The Velveteen Rabbit (c. 1922), Thornton W. Burgess's Adventures of Peter Cottontail (1941), Robert Lawson's Rabbit Hill (1944), Richard Adams's Watership Down (1972), and Joel Chandler Harris's Bre'r Rabbit tales (retellings of African-American folktales published around the turn of the twentieth century). These stories portray rabbits as cozy, clever, or magical animals. The Easter Bunny shares in these qualities. To some extent so, too, does the animated cartoon character Bugs Bunny, another favorite with children. Perhaps these imagined character traits inspire children's continuing affection for these fictional rabbits and their mythological companion, the Easter Bunny.

Further Reading

Bare, Colleen Stanley. Rabbits and Hares. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1983. Cavendish, Richard, ed. "Rabbit." In his Man, Myth, and Magic. Volume 9. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1970. Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter the World Over. Philadelphia, PA: Chilton Book Company, 1971. Porter, Keith. Discovering Rabbits and Hares. New York: Bookwright Press, 1986. Rowland, Beryl. Animals with Human Faces. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1973.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(domestic rabbit), a mammal of the family Leporidae, order Lagomorpha.

The ancestor of the domestic rabbit, the wild, Common European, or Old World, rabbit (Oryctolagus), was the forerunner of numerous breeds. The domestic rabbit is distinguished by early maturation, fertility, and intensive growth. It is raised for meat, fur, and down. The rabbit can reproduce year round, and the does reach puberty by the age of three or four months. The gestation period lasts from 28 to 32 days. A female can have from three to six litters a year, with six to eight (sometimes as many as 15 or more) young per litter. Newborn rabbits weigh 60–70 g, and after a month (at weaning) they weigh nine or ten times that much. A breeding rabbit is weaned at 45 days, at a live-weight of 800–900 g. Fast-maturing breeds are killed for meat and fur at 65–70 days, at a weight of 1.8–2 kg; later-maturing breeds, at 90–110 days, at 2.8-4 kg. The lifespan of the domestic rabbit is from seven to ten years; its period of economic value lasts two or three years.

The basic foods for the domestic rabbit are green grass, forage root plants, carrot and cabbage silage, small-stalked hay, grain, grain siftings, mixed fodder, other concentrated feeds, and bone and fish meal; mineral supplements include bone meal, table salt, and chalk. Homestead rabbit breeding makes use of fresh food waste, the rabbits being fed according to scientifically developed norms and rations. The best rabbit fur is obtained in fall and winter, after shedding. Rabbit meat is of nutritional value. The killed weight of a fattened rabbit depends on its size and nutritional condition and constitutes 47–60 percent of the liveweight.

About 60 breeds of rabbits are raised in the world. They are subdivided, according to the nature of the coat, into fur breeds and down breeds. In the USSR, the standard-haired (with hair of 2.5–4 cm) and short-haired (with hair of 1.5–2 cm) fur breeds are the most common. The breeds are classified, according to average weight, as large (more than 4.5 kg), medium (2.5–4 kg), and small (less than 2.5 kg).

The standard-haired fur breeds include the large Gray Giant, White Giant, Silver, Soviet Chinchilla, Black-Brown, and Veiled Silver; the medium Viennese Blue, Butterfly, and Soviet Marder; and the small Russian Ermine and local breeds. The short-haired fur breeds include the Rex varieties. The White Downy is principal among the down breeds raised in the USSR (yielding 350–700 g of down per adult rabbit per year). Most of the fur breeds are raised not only for their pelts but also for their meat.

Outside the Soviet Union, the most important industrial breeds are those raised for fur and meat or for the meat alone. These include New Zealand White, the Giant Chinchilla, the Belgian Hare, the Blue Beveren, the Dutch Rabbit, the California, the Flemish Giant, the New Zealand Red, and the Champagne. Of the fur breeds, the most widespread are the Squirrel Rabbit, the Beveren, the Rex varieties, the Alaska, the Havana, the Coney, and the Sateen varieties.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

What does it mean when you dream about a rabbit?

Rabbits symbolize opulent fertility and spirituality. The Easter Bunny brings rewards of sweetness and gifts to celebrate new life. The magician’s hat from which rabbits materialize gives this animal magical associations.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


A small container that is propelled, usually pneumatically or hydraulically, through a tube into a nuclear reactor; used to expose samples to the radiation, especially neutron flux, then remove them rapidly for measurements of radioactive atoms having short half-lives. Also known as shuttle.
(petroleum engineering)
A small plug driven by pressure through a flow line to clean the line or to check that it is unobstructed.
(vertebrate zoology)
Any of a large number of burrowing mammals in the family Leporidae.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


symbol of fecundity. [Animal Symbolism: Mercatante, 125–126]


progenitor of many offspring at short intervals. [Zoology: Misc.]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. any of various common gregarious burrowing leporid mammals, esp Oryctolagus cuniculus of Europe and North Africa and the cottontail of America. They are closely related and similar to hares but are smaller and have shorter ears
2. the fur of such an animal
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


Rabbits are cuddly and cute. They are known for their quickness but not their keen perceptions or intelligence. In our dreams, rabbits can represent luck, quickness, fertility, pregnancy, or magic. However, they can also symbolize the dreamer’s lack of consciousness or awareness. Rabbits as dream symbols might suggest to the dreamer that sometimes he reacts too quickly to life’s situations and that more thought and planning may be needed.
Bedside Dream Dictionary by Silvana Amar Copyright © 2007 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.