European Rabbit: Breed Info, Facts, Lifespan, and more

There are plenty of animals that can be found throughout Australia’s vast and varied outback, but when it comes to widespread distribution, few are as common as the European Rabbit. 

First introduced to the continent during the late 19th century, European rabbits are one of Australia’s most abundant animals, often found roaming everywhere from grasslands to suburban gardens and spaces. 

Unfortunately, while you might find these rabbits cute, they are considered pests and are one of the most invasive animals on the continent. 

If you wish to learn more about this animal and its effect in Australia, this article aims to tell you facts about its breed, lifespan, biodiversity effect, and so much more. 

What are European Rabbits?

Abundant and destructive, the European Rabbit (or Oryctolagus cuniculus) first arrived in Australia along with the First Fleet.

They were then deliberately released for hunting in the 1800s, where it only took around 50 years for their species to spread all over. The rate of spread of the rabbit in Australia was the fastest of any colonizing mammal in the world.

Today, these animals can be found in all states, territories, and offshore islands. Known for their long, pointy ears and large protruding eyes, the European rabbit belongs to the family Leporidae, which also includes hares. 

Like many animals, these rabbits are extremely adaptable, which played a huge role in their spread across the Australian continent. They are also known for their ability to reproduce rapidly, which is a necessary evolutionary step as their species are on the bottom of the food chain. 

In many states, European rabbits are largely considered pets, as they are aggressive foragers that graze on native and introduced vegetation, crops, and pastures. 

When this happens, rabbits effectively prevent seedlings from regenerating, reducing crop yields while also increasing competition for feed with livestock. 

As such, these animals are known to have a major negative impact on agricultural productivity and the environment. 

What do European Rabbits Look Like? 

Aside from their long floppy ears and short stumpy tail, European rabbits are also known for their typically gray-brown coats. They can also range from a sandy color to blacker and dark grayer colors. 

In all variations, however, European rabbits have white undersides. They also have large, protruding eyes on the side of their heads. 

As they are in the same family as hares, European rabbits have long hind legs and short front legs, which enable their long jumping gait. 

Rabbits also have unique upper teeth which consist of a pair of hypsodont teeth and a pair of peg teeth hidden behind. This double pair of upper teeth are found only in rabbits and hares, with the front set continuously growing and in need of constant dulling. 

As with all rabbits, male European rabbits are called “bucks,” females are called “does,” and young bunnies are referred to as “kits,” short for kittens.

How do European Rabbits Behave and Live? 

In the wild, European rabbits are mostly active starting from late afternoon to the early morning. Usually, these animals emerge from their burrows about 1 to 3 hours before sunset and graze or socialize until dusk. Unless disturbed, rabbits typically stay above ground. 

European rabbits are also gregarious animals that tend to form social groups with rather complicated structures. Dominant males usually defend their territory to gain mating rights with females, while dominant females defend nesting sites.

They also have an interesting mating system. Dominant bucks are often polygamous and pair with different females, while lower-status rabbits (both bucks and does) form monogamous pairs.

When it comes to habitat, rabbits also prefer soil and often form extensive burrows underground called warrens. Inside these warrens, rabbits live in a colony with 6 to 10 adults of both sexes. 

In the absence of a warren, however, rabbits seek protection above ground through timber, logs, dense thickets of native scrub, and heaps of various debris.

What is a European Rabbit’s Diet? 

European rabbits are generalized herbivores and often feed on a diverse diet of grasses, tree bark, leaves, buds, and roots. 

If there is a garden nearby, rabbits also feed on lettuce, cabbage, root vegetables, and grains.

European Rabbit Reproduction and Lifespan 

During the breeding season (which usually takes place from January to August), the rabbit does give birth to 3-7 kits after a gestation period of around 30 days. 

Shortly after this, the doe will create a separate burrow far away from the warren. Here, the mother rabbit will protect her kids from other rabbits and predators. 

Born blind, deaf, and furless, baby rabbits first open their eyes 11 days after birth. At 18 days, they start leaving the burrow and become fully weaned after 4 weeks. 

Young bucks then become sexually mature after 4 months, while does start breeding between 3 and 5 months. 

While European rabbits can live up to 9 years, they only have an average life expectancy of 2 to 5 years in the wild, as they are a major part of many predator diets. However, those that are bred and raised in captivity can easily live for 9 years. 

Environmental Impact 

Unfortunately, the impact of European rabbits on the Australian environment has been disastrous. Because of the lack of natural predators, they have become so widespread that at least 304 Australian fauna and flora species have become directly affected. 

It’s estimated that rabbits cost Australian agriculture around $200 million in lost production every year. Luckily, there are now multiple ongoing efforts to control their population and distribution to make sure their numbers stay at a healthy amount. 

Can European Rabbits be Kept as Pets?

Unfortunately, no. While they look like a common domesticated rabbit, European rabbits are wild animals that should be left alone. 

That said, there are plenty of domesticated rabbits that you can welcome into your home and take care of as your family’s newest member! Not only are domesticated rabbits tamer and more docile, but they are also guaranteed free from any disease. 

Final Thoughts

With that, we hope this article has given you unique insight into European rabbits, as well as their contribution to the environment. If you’re interested in learning more about different rabbit breeds, you can explore our comprehensive list of 50 types of rabbits, which provides detailed information on various rabbit species and their characteristics.