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RUNNING BUN MAGAZINE - All things "bunnified," news from the rabbit multiverse, deep down in the Earth, where it's still warm.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Buno: The Running Bun Interview

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The Life of the Wild Rabbit

Most people do not realize the difference between a rabbit and a hare. Contrary to what you might think, the cottontails in your backyard are not rabbits. There are no American rabbits except for the highly endangered pygmy rabbit of the Pacific Northwest. Cottontails, or hares, are born fully furred and with eyes open. They are on their own after only about 10 days. They live a somewhat isolated life sleeping in a different shallow grass nest every night and foraging alone for food. Many people think that baby cottontails they find in one of these shallow nests have been abandoned but they have not. The mother only needs to tend to them for a short while each day.

An Eastern cottontail nibbles Appalachian flora.
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Rabbits Dance to Flamenco Guitar 


Rabbits, on the other hand, are native only to European hillsides, specifically the Iberian peninsula of Spain and Portugal. The word rabbit in Latin is Hispania, which translates then to Spain, because the Phoenicians found so many rabbits on the hillsides there about 3,000 years ago that they named the land they found after the rabbits who inhabited it.

The little pet bunnies who many people keep as house pets today, and who are the third most popular companion animal after cats and dogs in this country, are descendants of these wild European rabbits.

This is not a rabbit. This is an Eastern Cottontail hare.
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Warren Peace 

In their natural habitat, they live in large groups ranging from less than a dozen individuals to sometimes hundreds of individuals. These groups are called warrens and they dig deep into the ground of hillsides carving out vast, complex burrows similar to prairie dog cities.

In these underground tunnels, wild rabbits enjoy a fairly consistent temperature of about 65 degrees year round. Each rabbit's personal burrow is maintained for life and they also mate for life. Rabbits are very selective about their mates and males will box with each other to claim their mate. Rabbits remain loyal to their mates over many breeding seasons.

Got Milk? 


When a rabbit gives birth to babies, or kits, in their underground, the mother only nurses them once a day. This is illustrates how very rich is the mother rabbit's milk. The kits are born without any fur and eyes closed. Their eyes do not open for about 10 days. The kits are dependent on their mother for several months after birth. They may be able to hop around and find food on their own at about age 2 months, but they still have many things to learn from their mother. In wild warrens, it has been observed that rabbits maintain family ties over generations.

The natural diet of the rabbit is grass and leaves. Grass is one of the most nutritious foods on the planet, which helps explain why some animals who eat only grass can grow so large like cows and bison. Rabbits need to eat mostly grass to derive nutrition from their diet but they also must have a reliable source of fiber. Leaves provide fiber in their diet as well as twigs and branches that rabbits love to chew.

Another hare. Only the pygmy rabbit is native to the U.S.
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The rabbit's intestinal tract is a finely tuned machine that must always be in motion. Rabbits must eat all day long and always have something in their intestinal tract or their body temperature drops and they go into shock. Rabbits will build little nests of grass and leaves inside their burrow so they always have some food nearby in case of times of danger when they cannot go topside above ground.

Rabbits are crepuscular creatures, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk and this is when they venture forth from their burrow to forage for food. In winter, they might get snowed in their burrows but they can usually subsist by chewing on and ingesting tree roots, buried twigs and so forth. Their burrows are often found centered underneath a massive tree on top of a hill whose root system can withstand some nibbling. Rabbits have also made a few important archeological discoveries in rural areas of England where large warrens have unearthed ruins of ancient castles and mansions long thought to have been myths.

The wild cottontail of North America is a hare and not a rabbit.
The two cannot interbreed.

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Input, Output and Input Again! 

Eating all the time naturally means they also have a lot of output and these little pill-like droppings can be found outside the burrows and a few inside. Since it is so difficult to extract nutrition from a diet of grass and leaves, the rabbit's digestive tract has an extension at the end of it called a cecum. In the cecum, a few droppings are fermented over a period of several days during which bacteria and yeast breakdown the fibers of the grass and leaves and release nutrients. These special droppings are a critical part of the rabbit's diet. Rich in nutrients, they are called cecals. The rabbit daily, usually in the hours before dawn, ingests these cecals.

It was discovered in the early part of the twentieth century that the rabbit performs an important ecological function in the countryside where they live. Without the wild rabbit constantly trimming the grass and taking up leaves, vegetation grows out of control and allows other animals to thrive who might be considered undesirable. The wild rabbit not only keeps the countryside looking pruned and bucolic by eating their natural diet of grass and leaves but also by providing bright eyes and bushy tails bouncing through the brush.

 -Thumper S. Thompson All content and images © Running Bun Magazine. Use without permission prohibited.