Coney

An alternate name for the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) is ‘coney’ or ‘cony’. This term first occurred int he 13th century, which refers to the rabbit’s pelt. Later, ‘coney’ referred to the adult mammal, whilst ‘rabbit’ described the young.

European rabbits are such a common sight on UEA grounds, that not doing a post on them feels illegal.

The European rabbit’s ideal habitat consists of short grasslands, with a secure refuge, near feeding areas. For example, this could be gardens, parks, heaths, meadows, woodlands, and rarely sand dunes. They can also be found all year round, but more commonly at night.

O. cuniculus are really recognisable medium-sized mammals, with their grey-brown fur, long ears and hind legs, and fluffy white tail. They can sometimes be mistaken for brown hares (Lepus europaeus), however, these hares are much larger, and have a more golden-brown coat, and ears with distinctive black tips.

European rabbits are herbivores, but more specifically, a graminivore, meaning that they feed primarily on grass. During the winter, these rabbits may also eat tree bark and blackberries. O. cuniculus are also coprophages, which means they also consume their own faecal pellets, which are highly nutritious for the rabbits as the pellets are filled with protein-rich bacteria.

As a herbivore, European rabbits have many predators, including stoats, buzzards, polecats, and red foxes.

In most places, O. cuniculus are considered an invasive species, as they have been introduces to all countries and continents (excluding Antarctica). This has caused many problems within the environment and many ecosystems, particularly in Australia (for example) partially due to the lack of natural predators there.

European rabbits are actually native to Spain, but were brought over to the UK by the Normans in the 12th century, for their prized fur and meat. Today, these rabbits are one of the UK’s most common and widespread mammals.

O. cuniculus is the only rabbit to be widely domesticated, mainly for food or as a pet. They were first widely kept in ancient Rome, where fetal rabbits, known as ‘laurices’, were considered a delicacy. Since the middle ages, these rabbits had been refined to a wide range of breeds, often being bred to be much larger than the wild European rabbits.

European rabbits show show interesting mating systems, with the dominant bucks (males) being polygynous, and lower-status individuals (bucks and does, females) forming monogamous pairs. The breeding season takes place January and August. After a gestation period of about 30 days, the does give birth to 3-7 kittens, within breeding burrows located away from the main warren. The breeding burrow protects the kittens from both predators, and adult bucks. The kittens are born altricial, meaning they are totally dependant on their mother, as they are born blind, deaf, and furless. These kittens grow rapidly, and their eyes open at 11 days, and their ears gain the power of motion after 10 days, and can be erected after 13 days. After 18 days, the kittens leave the burrow, and at four weeks, they are weaned. The young bucks can become reproductively mature at four months of age, whilst the does can begin to breed after 3-5 months.

Resources:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/other-garden-wildlife/mammals/rabbit/

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/mammals/rabbit

https://animalia.bio/european-rabbit

https://www.mammal.org.uk/species-hub/full-species-hub/discover-mammals/species-rabbit/