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The Original Turtle via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
The Original Turtle via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

7 Big Facts About the Flemish Giant Rabbit

The Original Turtle via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
The Original Turtle via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

When you think pet rabbit, you probably imagine the fluffy little bunny you got to take care of for a weekend during kindergarten—not one that's the size of a small, carrot-eating toddler. But if you're in the market for a pet that hops like a bunny but steals food off the kitchen table like a puppy, then the Flemish Giant rabbit is the one for you. Here are seven lengthy facts about these special creatures.

1. THEY ARE THE LARGEST RABBIT BREED.

The male Flemish Giant can weigh up to 22 pounds and the female can get up to 20 pounds. At most, they grow to be 2.5 feet long.

2. THE MALE AND FEMALE HAVE DIFFERENT HEAD SHAPES.

A male rabbit (a.k.a. a buck) has a broader head than a female (doe). The female rabbit has a dewlap—a large flap of skin under her chin—used to keep her offspring warm.

3. THEY COME IN SEVEN COLORS.

The National Federation of Flemish Giant Rabbit Breeders recognizes Black, Blue, Fawn, Light Gray, Steel Gray, Sandy, and White as the official color varieties. In 1916, only Light Grays, Steels, and Blacks were recognized. Blues and Whites were accepted in 1919, Sandy in 1924, and Fawn in 1938.

4. THERE IS A NATIONAL FEDERATION OF FLEMISH GIANT RABBIT BREEDERS.

American Rabbit Breeders Association, Inc.[PDF]

The Federation was founded in 1915 by a group of four Flemish Giant rabbit breeders. This year, they celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Flemish Giant National Show. At shows, rabbits are posed in specific ways so judges can examine their bodies and teeth. To be eligible to compete, the rabbit must be one of the seven recognized colors and be entered into the correct age class. "The American Rabbit Breeders Association Standard of Perfection" dictates that a rabbit under six months and at least 6.5 pounds is eligible for entry in the Junior class, one between six and eight months is considered Intermediate, and eight months and older must be entered as a Senior.

5. THEY WERE ORIGINALLY BRED FOR THEIR FUR AND MEAT.

Flemish Giants are still used for meat (especially in stews), but their large bone structure and expensive diet means you’re not getting much bang for your buck. Now, they’re mostly bred for show or as pets due to their docile nature and 8 to 10 year life span.

6. THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS ONCE "INTERVIEWED" A FLEMISH GIANT.

In 2010, the paper ran an "interview" with Herbie, Prospect Park Zoo’s 18-pound rabbit, to promote the zoo’s Live Encounters Program. It was actually an interview with Denise McClean, the zoo’s director [PDF]. McClean revealed that Herbie was domestic and "probably would not be able to survive out in the wild on my own." In response to the question "Do you ever misbehave?" she said, "Flemish Giant rabbits have litters that run from five to 12 bunnies. If you left me with a female, you could end up with a whole lot of rabbits."

7. THEIR ORIGINS ARE HIGHLY CONTESTED AMONG FLEMISH GIANT RABBIT HISTORIANS.

However, authorities seem to agree that they were bred in 16th century Belgium. The first authentic record of their existence dates back to 1860's England when, according to Thomas Coatoam's "Origins of the Flemish Giants" published in the 1983 edition of the National Federation of Flemish Rabbit Breeders Guide Book, travelers returning from Flanders told tales of large rabbits. In 1890, they crossed the big pond and came to the United States.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between Gophers and Groundhogs?
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
Gopher or groundhog? (If you chose gopher, you're correct.)
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Gophers and groundhogs. Groundhogs and gophers. They're both deceptively cuddly woodland rodents that scurry through underground tunnels and chow down on plants. But whether you're a nature nerd, a Golden Gophers football fan, or planning a pre-spring trip to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might want to know the difference between groundhogs and gophers.

Despite their similar appearances and burrowing habits, groundhogs and gophers don't have a whole lot in common—they don't even belong to the same family. For example, gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, a group that includes pocket gophers (sometimes referred to as "true" gophers), kangaroo rats, and pocket mice.

Groundhogs, meanwhile, are members of the Sciuridae (meaning shadow-tail) family and belong to the genus Marmota. Marmots are diurnal ground squirrels, Daniel Blumstein, a UCLA biologist and marmot expert, tells Mental Floss. "There are 15 species of marmot, and groundhogs are one of them," he explains.

Science aside, there are plenty of other visible differences between the two animals. Gophers, for example, have hairless tails, protruding yellow or brownish teeth, and fur-lined cheek pockets for storing food—all traits that make them different from groundhogs. The feet of gophers are often pink, while groundhogs have brown or black feet. And while the tiny gopher tends to weigh around two or so pounds, groundhogs can grow to around 13 pounds.

While both types of rodent eat mostly vegetation, gophers prefer roots and tubers (much to the dismay of gardeners trying to plant new specimens), while groundhogs like vegetation and fruits. This means that the former animals rarely emerge from their burrows, while the latter are more commonly seen out and about.

Groundhogs "have burrows underground they use for safety, and they hibernate in their burrows," Blumstein says. "They're active during the day above ground, eating a variety of plants and running back to their burrows to safety. If it's too hot, they'll go back into their burrow. If the weather gets crappy, they'll go back into their burrow during the day as well."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that gophers are the more reclusive of the two, as groundhogs famously hibernate during the winter. Gophers, on the other hand, remain active—and wreck lawns—year-round.

"What's really interesting is if you go to a place where there's gophers, in the spring, what you'll see are what is called eskers," or winding mounds of soil, Blumstein says [PDF]. "Basically, they dig all winter long through the earth, but then they tunnel through snow, and they leave dirt in these snow tunnels."

If all this rodent talk has you now thinking about woodchucks and other woodland creatures, know that groundhogs have plenty of nicknames, including "whistle-pig" and "woodchuck," while the only nicknames for gophers appear to be bitter monikers coined by Wisconsin Badgers fans.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Watch Christmas Island’s Annual Crab Migration on Google Street View
Google
Google

Every year, the 45 million or so red crabs on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island migrate en masse from their forest burrows down to the ocean to mate, and so the female crabs can release their eggs into the sea to hatch. The migration starts during the fall, and the number of crabs on the beach often peaks in December. This year, you don’t have to be on Christmas Island to witness the spectacular crustacean event, as New Atlas reports. You can see it on Google Street View.

Watching the sheer density of crabs scuttling across roads, boardwalks, and beaches is a rare visual treat. According to the Google blog, this year’s crabtacular finale is forecasted for December 16, and Parks Australia crab expert Alasdair Grigg will be there with the Street View Trekker to capture it. That is likely to be the day when crab populations on the beaches will be at their peak, giving you the best view of the action.

Crabs scuttle across the forest floor while a man with a Google Street View Trekker walks behind them.
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Google Street View is already a repository for a number of armchair travel experiences. You can digitally explore remote locations in Antarctica, recreations of ancient cities, and even the International Space Station. You can essentially see the whole world without ever logging off your computer.

Sadly, because Street View isn’t live, you won’t be able to see the migration as it happens. The image collection won’t be available until sometime in early 2018. But it’ll be worth the wait, we promise. For a sneak preview, watch Parks Australia’s video of the 2012 event here.

[h/t New Atlas]

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