Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Courtesy of Wikipedia


European Rabbit

Oryctolagus Cuniculus

Courtesy of Wikipedia


Snowshoe Hare in winter coat



Snowshoe Hare in summer coat


Pika in Sequoia National Park

Ochotona Princeps

Courtesy of Wikipedia


Eastern Cottontail

Country of Wikipedia




Chocolate Polish Lop
The Who and Why of Rabbits

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Lagomorpha
Rabbits are classified as ‘Lagomorphs’ because they have two more incisor teeth than rodents (in the upper jaw) giving a total of 8 instead of 4 for rodents.
Leporidae (rabbits and hares)
Leporids are the approximately 50 species of rabbits and hares, which are prey
Ochotonidae (pikas)

Genus for Leporidae family

Genus: Oryctolagus
  • European Rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus
*All breeds of Domestic Rabbits are descendants of the European wild rabbit, ‘Oryctolagus cuniculus’
Genus: Sylvilagus (Cottontails)
  • Swamp Rabbit, Sylvilagus aquaticus
  • Marsh Rabbit, Sylvilagus palustris
  • Eastern Cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus
  • New England Cottontail, Sylvilagus transitionalis
  • Mountain Cottontail, Sylvilagus nuttallii
  • Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii
Genus: Lepus(Hares)
  • White-tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus townsendii
  • Black-tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  • Snowshoe Hare, Lepus americanus
  • Artic Hare, Lepus arcticus
*Both Snowshoe and Arctic Hares turn brown in summer, white in winter

Differences Between Rabbits and Hares

Rabbits Hares
  • ‘oryctolagus’, true rabbits
  • ‘sylvilagus’, cottontails
  • ‘lepus’, hares and jackrabbit
  1. Rabbits are born hairless
  2. Rabbits are born blind
  3. Rabbits are born helpless in a fur lined nest
  4. Rabbits live in brush and other cover
  5. Rabbits have shorter legs, and run in short bursts of speed
  6. Rabbits have shorter ears, and are very alert
  1. Hares are born fully haired
  2. Hares are born with eyes open
  3. Hares can run within a few minutes of birth
  4. Hares are born and live in the open grassy areas
  5. Hares have long legs - for speed and endurance
  6. Hares have long ears - very alert

Note:Cottontail and Domestic rabbits cannot be crossbred, nor can hares and rabbits. This is because of differences in chromosome numbers between them.

History of Rabbits and their Domestication


'Eocene Epoch',

55 million years ago;

  • Ancient relatives of the modern rabbit lived in Asia and North America.
  • Dinosaurs were already extinct and age of mammals begun.


800,000 years ago;

  • First fossil evidence of rabbits as we know them appeared.


During the Pliocene to the Beginning of the Ice Age;

  • Modern day (domestic) rabbit is descended from the wild rabbit; 'Oryctolagus cuniculus' makes its first appearance.


Another 790,000 years;

  • Before Homo Sapiens evolved.


About 1100BC;

  • Man's relationship with the European or 'true' rabbit recorded by seafaring Phoenicians when they landed in Iberia, and dispersed them to other areas.
  • The Phoenicians termed the Iberian Peninsula 'i-shephan-im' (the land of the rabbit), which became the Latin word 'Hispania', then became 'Spain'.


About 100BC;

  • rearing rabbits in captivity started in Rome
  • Rabbits were kept and hunted in large gardens surrounded by stone walls called 'Leporaria'.
  • This did not propose domestication because there was no specialized breeding program.


1st Century AD;

  • Isolated monasteries began to keep rabbits for a ready source of food.


Between 6th and 10th centuries AD;

  • The French monks were probably responsible for the actual domestication of the wild rabbit
  • They kept the rabbits in separate cages to protect the breeding does.
  • Selection process starts by choosing tamer and friendlier rabbits that were easier to handle. 


12th Century AD;

  • Normans brought them to Britain and established them as domestic and wild animals.


1249 AD;

  • Records show transaction between two monasteries for the purchase of two breeding pairs of rabbits.


Soon After;

  • Rabbits have found their way to most regions of the world by either natural means or by early sailing vessels who kept them for a ready source of meat.


1407 AD;

  • Rabbits kept on islands for confinement using their fear of water, as a source of food during long sailing trips.


1530 AD;

  • Early development of new varieties showing deliberate breeding.
  • first reference of a white rabbit


Mid 16th Century AD;

  • Development of other colours such a black, and an increase in size.


During 17th Century AD;

  • First appearance of 'silver-gray' and 'blue' rabbits and then the subsequent fur industry.
  • Seven distinct colours as well as differences in coat length and texture ear length and body size had been genetically selected.
  • Early fanciers then develop new breeds for meat, fur and pets.
  • Study of genetics on its way.


Prior to 1898 AD;

  • Very few domestic rabbits in North America.


1910 AD;

  • Other breeds of Domestic rabbits developed and imported into North America.
  • Development of a national rabbit association devoted to all breeds.


About Rabbits


Size Categories

Large Breeds

(Giant Rabbits,10 lbs +)

  • Used for exhibition and occasionally meat production.
  • These rabbits need special housing because of their size and weight.  Larger than normal cages and solid (wood) floors are best for these larger breeds.  
  • They have a shorter life span than smaller breeds.
  • Average life span 3 – 5 years.

Some examples of large breeds and their weights:

  • Flemish Giant, 13 pounds +
  • Giant Chinchilla, 12 pounds +
  • Checkered Giant, 11 pounds +
  • French Lop, 10 pounds +



Medium Breeds

(‘standard’ rabbits, 6 – 10 lbs.)

  • Used for exhibition and occasionally meat production.
  • Popular meat breeds in this size category ie. New Zealand and Californian.
  • Excellent mothers, milking ability and large litters.
  • Easily housed on wood or in wire pens.
  • Average life span 6 – 8 years.

Some examples of medium breeds and their weights:

  • Californian, ideal weight 9 pounds
  • English Spot, ideal weight 6 – 7 pounds
  • New Zealand, ideal weight 10 pounds
  • Red Satin, ideal weight 9 ½ - 10 pounds


Small Breeds

(Dwarf or Small Rabbits, 5 lbs. and under)


  • Used for exhibition and or for pets.
  • Easily housed, easily handled.
  • Average life span 8+ years.
  • There is only 1 true ‘dwarf’ rabbit (it carries a recessive ‘dwarf’ gene), the Netherland Dwarf (2 ½ lbs. max.)  All other small breeds are small rabbits ie. Britannia Petite (2 ½ lbs. max.)

Some examples of small breeds and their weights:

  • Dwarf Hotot, ideal weight 2 ½ pounds
  • Mini Rex, ideal weight 4 pounds
  • Polish, ideal weight 2 ½ pounds
  • Holland Lop, ideal weight 3 pounds


Body Types

Commercial Type

Basic meat rabbit type with medium body length, the shape of half a pear when viewed from the side. The top-line of the animal rises directly from behind the ears over a well-filled shoulder and rib section, to a high point over the hips. Width and depth of loin are important and also a smooth and rounded hind-quarter, with firm flesh throughout.

To be posed with hock and forelegs flat on the table in a natural pose, not pushed up or flattened out.


Breeds include:Angoras; French, German, Giant & Satin, Champagne D’Argent, Californian, Cinnamon, American Chinchilla, Crème D’Argent, French Lop, Harlequin, Hotot, New Zealand, Palomino, Rex, American Sable, Satin, Silver Fox and Silver Marten


Compact Type

A short, well-rounded body type with a slight taper from the neck to the tail from the top and side views. Posed with forelegs and hock flat on the table, but a few are posed in a semi “pushed-up” position.

Breeds include: American Fuzzy Lop, English Angora, Standard Chinchilla, Dwarf Hotot, Dutch, Florida White, Havana, Holland Lop, Jersey Wooly, Lilac, Mini Lop, Mini Rex, Netherland Dwarf, Polish and Silver


Cylindrical Type

A snaky and slim appearance that is long and cylindrical with fine bone and a head that is long

and carried up. They are posed stretched out as far as possible but with forelegs and hocks flat on the table.


The only breed with this type is: Himalayan


Full Arch Type

These animals show an arch starting from the neck right down to the tail, when viewed from the side, with lots of air space between the belly and the table (similar to a wild hare). This shape is termed as raciness in rabbit circles. The arch gives them more depth than width of body. They are posed up on the front feet and toes and also judged on their movement by letting them run naturally up and down on the table.


Breeds include: Belgian Hare, Britannia Petite, Checkered Giant, English Spot, Rhinelander, Tan


Semi-Arch Type

Referred to as Mandolin type because of the similarity of shape to a Mandolin placed face down on a table. Usually these breeds have a longer body length than most. When posed with forelegs and hocks flat on the table, they show a distinct arch starting just behind the shoulders and rising over the massive loin and hindquarters carrying down to the base of the tail.

This type is  judged by posing and also allowing the animals to move naturally on the table to view their 'tracking' which is the straightness and movement of their hind legs. 


Breeds include: American, Beveren, English Lop, Flemish Giant, Giant Chinchilla

The Four Fur Types


Normal Fur:

A fine dense under coat hair for warmth and a longer coarser ‘guard’ hair that protects the undercoat.

i.e. similar to our wearing woolen garments under an overcoat.


  • Flemish Giant
  • Checkered Giant
  • French Lop
  • New Zealand
  • Californian
  • English Spot
  • Mini Lop
  • Dwarf Hotot
  • Polish
  • Netherland Dwarf
  • Britannia Petite


Satin Fur

Similar to ‘normal’ fur but with a finer diameter ‘guard’ hair that also reflects light making the coat very bright and shiny. The satin coat has a texture very similar to the feel of satin cloth.


  • Satin


Rex Fur

The ‘guard’ hair on the Rex breeds is the same length as the undercoat making the fur look and feel like velvet. The hair is at a 90% angle to the body and should be 5/8" long - the width of a dime. When feeling the hair between fingers it should be thick. The thickness is called density. When looking at the ends of the hair it should be completely even - the guard hair not extending beyond the undercoat. The overall feel to be soft but springy - this is the texture.


  • Standard Rex
  • Mini Rex                      
  • Velveteen Lop


Angora Wool

Angora Fur is called wool.  It has both an undercoat and guard hairs of extended length.  Angora wool comes ‘loose’ when ready and is plucked or sheared to make angora yarn.  Angora fibre listed on garments labels always refers to Angora rabbit wool.

Note: “angora goat” wool is the fibre from Angora goats and is called “Mohair”.


  • German Angora
  • Giant Angora
  • French Angora
  • English Angora
  • Satin Angora (also Satin Fur)


(not for wool production, only for exhibition and pet animals)

  • Jersey Wooly
  • American Fuzzy Lop
Dominion Rabbit and Cavy Breeders' Association (DR & CBA) © 2024