The domestic rabbit is a descendant of the wild European rabbit. Rabbits were introduced to Britain by the Romans who kept them in fenced off warrens and harvested their meat and fur. The earliest known records of rabbits in Britain occurred during the 12th Century. They were first described as conies, after the second part of their scientific name (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Rabbits are very adaptable and have become so successful in some areas that they are considered to be a pest.
Domestic rabbits live for an average of 5-10 years.
Distribution and Habitat in the wild
The European rabbit is found all over Europe, except for the far north and east, and also inhabits North West Africa. It has been introduced to many other countries, including New Zealand, Australia and Chile. It lives in grassland, cultivated land, grassy coastal cliffs and woodland.
Behaviour in the wild
Wild rabbits are gregarious and a couple of hundred individuals may be found in one warren (a network of underground burrows). They are active during dusk and dawn, but will also come out during the day in undisturbed areas.
Rabbits primarily feed on grass and leafy plants, but they will feed on bulbs, bark and twigs when food is scarce. They can also be damaging to young trees and farmers' crops.
Females may produce several litters a year, usually in the spring and summer. There are 3 to 9 young in a litter which are born blind and helpless. They emerge from the burrow after 3 weeks.
Find out about wild rabbits with our Wildfacts.