Rabbits are one of the most recognizable mammals on the planet. They live on every continent except Antarctica, even inhabiting tiny islands in the Pacific Ocean, and some parts of Japan. They’re known for their big ears, fleet feet, and impressive ability to make more of themselves; but just how old do rabbits get, and how old is the oldest rabbit ever? Here, we’ll discover the world’s oldest rabbit, and her runner-up.
There are just 29 species of wild rabbit around the world, but domestic breeders have created over 300 breeds of pet rabbit. As far as scientists and historians can tell, rabbits were first domesticated by the Romans, who likely bred them for their meat and skins (pelts). Today, rabbits are still raised in many parts of the world for the same reasons. They have also made their way into our homes as pets.
Rabbits live almost everywhere humans live, and it’s no surprise that they have achieved this through some pretty spectacular breeding abilities. Rabbits reach maturity between three and four months old, from there they can produce new rabbits up to ten times per year. Baby rabbits are called ‘kits’, ‘kittens’, or ‘bunnies’, while adult females are ‘does’ and adult males are ‘bucks’.
Rabbits are not to be confused with hares, which have longer ears, bigger bodies, and fur that turns white in the winter. Additionally, many rabbits live in burrows underground called ‘warrens’, whereas hares live above ground.
Rabbit Lifespan: How Long Do Rabbits Live?
Wild rabbits have a maximum lifespan of only about three years, though most don’t make it that long. Because rabbits breed in such high numbers, many of them die young, before they’ve reached their first birthday.
By contrast, pet rabbits will often reach ten years of age, with the average lifespan being between eight and twelve years. This is because pet rabbits are almost always spayed or neutered, and well fed and cared for, giving them a huge edge over their wild cousins.
In the wild, most rabbits die young from predation or food scarcity. As pets or livestock though, rabbits are protected and fed nutritious diets. Wild rabbits eat a combination of grass and herbs, while pet rabbits eat grass and leafy greens, as well as assorted treats.
The Oldest Rabbit Ever, and Her Runner-Up
The oldest rabbit ever recorded was an Australian rabbit named Flopsy, who lived to be 18 years, 10 months, and 3 weeks old. Flopsy was caught by her owner in 1964 in the wilds of Tasmania, and lived out her life as a beloved pet.
The second oldest rabbit ever recorded was a buck named Mick who lived outside Chicago, Illinois. Mick (who died in late 2019) turned 16 years old on February 9th of 2019.
Before Mick was (briefly) crowned the oldest living rabbit, another long-lived rabbit lived in Silver Run, Maryland. The rabbit, named heather, was estimated to be 15 to 16 years before passing away. As you can see, while the upper age of rabbit lifespans are 12 years old its rare for them to live deep into their teenage years.
Keeping Rabbits as Pets
Even though rabbits have been kept for meat and furs for thousands of years, people have only been breeding them as pets for the past 150 years or so. It all began in Victorian England, when breeders started selectively breeding European rabbits for specific traits like; fur color, coat length, ear carriage (floppiness), size, and attitude. The hobby quickly gained traction, and by the 1920’s there were rabbit breeding and showing clubs throughout Europe and America.
Today there are 305 registered breeds of domestic rabbit, and many of these are specifically bred for one characteristic or another. Some people crave huge rabbits (some as long as four feet) and some people want rabbits with long fur that brushes the ground. One thing is sure, today’s pet rabbits come in just about every size, color, and ear shape imaginable for a rabbit.
Five of the Most Popular Rabbit Breeds
- Netherland Dwarf Rabbit — Weighing under three pounds, this breed comes in a variety of colors, and is known for its juvenile appearance, even into adulthood.
- Lionhead Rabbit — Aptly named, this rabbit has a long fringe of fur encircling its face, and upright ears.
- Flemish Giant Rabbit — This breed is known for its size (up to 20 pounds!), and easy going nature.
- Holland Lop — So named for their floppy, or ‘lopped’ ears. This breed comes in many colors, and tops out at four pounds, though they are usually smaller.
- Rex Rabbit — These rabbits come in almost every color combination and have short, velvety fur and upright ears.
Rabbit Endangerment and Conservation
Domestic rabbits may be doing great, but there are many species of wild rabbit that are actually severely endangered. There are currently 22 species of rabbit considered threatened or endangered. Most of these species are what are called ‘habitat specialists’, meaning they have evolved to live in a very specific place, or set of conditions. Once those conditions change, or their habitat disappears, these specialized rabbits soon disappear:
- Riverine Rabbit — This species is native to South Africa. It’s thought that fewer than 250 remain in the wild. Habitat loss is this rabbit’s greatest threat.
- Amami Rabbit — Native to a few isolated Japanese islands. These rabbits are in danger of extinction due to predation by cats and mongoose, as well as habitat loss.
- Annamite Striped Rabbit — Discovered in 1999 and native to Vietnam. As its name suggests, this rabbit has a stripe down its back. Hunting and habitat loss are the main threats.
- Volcano Rabbit — This rabbit is native to Mexico. It got its name from the many types of calls it makes. Habitat loss and the warming climate are the biggest threats to this rabbit.
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