Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 768 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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RABBIT, the modern -lame of the well-known rodent, formerly called (as it still is in English legal phraseology) CoNY,' a member of the family Leporidae (see RODENTIA). Till recently the rabbit has generally been known scientifically as Lepus cuniculus, but it is now frequently regarded, at least by systematic naturalists, as the representative of a genus by itself, under the The Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). name of Oryctolagus cuniculus. Some zoologists, indeed, include in the same genus the South African thick-tailed hare, but by others this is separated as Pronolagus crassicaudatus. From the hare the wild rabbit is distinguished externally by its smaller size, shorter ears and feet, the absence or reduction of the black patch at the tip of the ears, and its greyer colour. The skull is 1 There are no native names either in Teutonic or Celtic languages; such words as German Kaninchen or English cony are from the Latin cuniculus, while the Irish, Welsh and Gaelic are adaptations from English. " Rabbit," which is now the common name in English, was for long confined to the young of the cony, and so the Promptorium Parvulorum, c. 1440, " Rabet, yonge conye, cunicellus." The ultimate source of " rabbit " is itself unknown. The New English Dictionary takes it to be of northern French origin. There is a Walloon robett. Skeat suggests a possible connexion with Spanish rabo, tail, rabear, to wag the hind-quarters. The familiar name for toasted cheese, " Welsh rabbit," is merely a joke, and the alteration to " Welsh rare-bit " is due to a failure to see the joke, such as it is. Parallels may be found in " Prairie oyster," the yolk of an egg with vinegar, pepper, &c. added; or " Scotch woodcock," a savoury of buttered eggs on anchovy toast. very similar to that of the hare, but is smaller and lighter, with a slenderer muzzle and a longer and narrower palate. Besides these characters, the rabbit is separated from the hare by the fact that it brings forth its young naked, blind, and help-less; to compensate for this, it digs a deep burrow in the earth in which they are born and reared, while the young of the hare are born fully clothed with fur, and able to take care of them-selves, in the shallow depression or " form " in which they are produced. The weight of the rabbit is from 21 to 3 lb, although wild individuals have been recorded up to more than 5 lb. Its 'general habits are too well known to need detailed description. It breeds from four to eight times a year, bringing forth each time from three to eight young; its period of gestation is about thirty days, and it is able to bear when six months old. It attains to an age of about seven or eight years. The rabbit is believed to be a native of the western half of the Mediterranean basin, and still abounds in Spain, Sardinia, southern Italy, Sicily, Greece, Tunis and Algeria; and many of the islands adjoining these countries are overrun with these rodents. Thence it has spread, partly by man's agency, north-wards throughout temperate western Europe, increasing rapidly wherever it gains a footing; and this extension is still going on, as is shown by the case of Scotland, where early in the 19th century rabbits were little known, while they are now found in all suitable localities up to the extreme north. It has also gained admittance into Ireland, and now abounds there as much as in England. Out of Europe the same extension of range has been going on. In New Zealand and Australia rabbits, introduced either for profit or sport, have increased to such an extent as to form one of the most serious pests that the farmers have to contend against, as the climate and soil suit them perfectly and their natural enemies are too few and too lowly organized to keep them within reasonable bounds. In North America about thirty species and twice as many geographic races (subspecies) are known, and the occurrence of several distinct fossil forms shows that the genus has long been established. The chief variety is the common grey or cottontail (Lepus floridanus). For the " jack-rabbit," see
End of Article: RABBIT

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