14 Fascinating Facts About Rabbits

iStock.com/mammuth
iStock.com/mammuth

Rabbits are much more than the cute, carrot-munching creatures pop culture makes them out to be. They can dig sophisticated tunnels, grow to weigh more than 20 pounds, and even eat their own poop. Here are some more facts worth knowing about the beloved mammals.

1. They can't live off carrots.

Rabbit eating carrots.
iStock

Cartoons suggest that rabbits can happily survive on a diet of carrots alone. But in the wild, rabbits don’t eat root vegetables—they’d much rather munch on greens like weeds, grasses, and clovers. That doesn’t mean you can’t give your pet some carrots as a snack from time to time, but don’t overdo it: Carrots are high in sugar and contribute to tooth decay in 11 percent of pet bunnies.

2. Some rabbits are as big as a toddler.

Flemish giant rabbit.
iStock

Not all rabbits are cute and tiny. Some, like the Flemish giant rabbit, grow to be downright monstrous. This rabbit breed is the world's largest, reaching 2.5 feet in length and weighing up to 22 pounds. Fortunately these giants are the gentle kind, which makes them popular pets.

3. Baby rabbits are called kittens.

Baby bunny in field.
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Nope, not bunnies, technically. Another word for the young is kits. Mature females are known as does while adult males are called bucks. Bunny, meanwhile, falls into the same category of cutesy terms as kitty and doggy—they're not scientific, but everyone will know what you mean.

4. There's some truth to the phrase "breed like rabbits."

Two rabbits outside.
iStock

Rabbits really are a busy bunch. A rabbit is ready to start breeding at just 3 to 8 months old. Once they reach that point, they can copulate eight months out of the year every year for the rest of their 9- to 12-year lifespan. A doe's reproductive system doesn't follow cycles; instead, ovulation is triggered by intercourse. After a 30-day gestation period she'll give birth to a litter of about four to 12 kits.

5. Rabbits "binky" when they're happy.

Rabbit hopping outdoors.
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If you spend enough time around rabbits, you may be lucky enough to witness one of the cutest behaviors in nature. A bunny will hop when it's happy and do a twist in mid-air. This adorable action has an equally adorable name: It's called a binky.

6. They eat their own poop.

Cute rabbit indoors.
iStock

One rabbit behavior that is significantly less adorable: After digesting a meal, rabbits will sometimes eat their own poop and process it a second time. It may seem gross, but droppings are actually an essential part of a rabbit's diet. They even produce a special type of poop called cecotropes that are softer than their normal pellets and meant to be eaten. Rabbits have a fast-moving digestive system, and by redigesting waste, they're able to absorb nutrients their bodies missed the first time around.

7. Rabbits groom themselves like cats do.

Rabbit grooming itself.
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Rabbits are remarkably hygienic. Like cats, they keep themselves clean throughout the day by licking their fur and paws. This means rabbits generally don't need to be bathed by their owners like some other pets.

8. They can't vomit.

Rabbit eating grass in a field.
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While a cat can cough up a hairball after a long day of self-grooming, a rabbit cannot. The rabbit digestive system is physically incapable of moving in reverse. Instead of producing hairballs, rabbits deal with swallowed fur by eating plenty of roughage that pushes it through their digestive tract.

9. Their vision covers nearly 360 degrees.

Rabbit in a field.
iStock

It's hard to sneak up on a rabbit: Their vision covers nearly 360 degrees, which allows them to see what's coming from behind them, above them, and from the sides without turning their heads. The trade-off is that rabbits have a small blind spot directly in front of their faces.

10. They are really good jumpers.

Rabbit hopping.
iStock

Those impressive back legs aren't just for show. Rabbits are built for evading predators in a hurry, and according to Guinness World Records, the highest rabbit jump reached 3.26 feet off the ground and the farthest reached nearly 10 feet. There are even rabbit jumping competitions where owners can show off their pets' agility.

11. Their teeth never stop growing.

Rabbit chewing leaves.
iStock

Like human fingernails, a rabbit's teeth will keep growing if given the chance. A rabbit's diet in the wild includes a lot of gritty, tough-to-chew plant food that would eventually wear down a permanent set of teeth. With chompers that grow at a rate of up to 5 inches a year, any damage that's done to their teeth is quickly compensated for. The flip-side is that domestic rabbits who aren't fed abrasive foods can suffer from overgrown teeth that can make it difficult for them to eat.

12. They live in elaborate tunnels called warrens.

Rabbit butt sticking out of burrow.
iStock

Rabbits dig complex tunnel systems, called warrens, that connect special rooms reserved for things like nesting and sleeping. The dens have multiple entrances that allow the animals to escape in a pinch, and some warrens are as large as tennis courts and extend 10 feet below the surface.

13. Their ears help them stay cool.

Rabbit walking toward camera.
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A rabbit's ears serve two main purposes. The first and most obvious is hearing: Rabbits can rotate their ears 270 degrees, allowing them to detect any threats that might be approaching from close to 2 miles away. The oversized ears also have the added benefit of cooling rabbits down on a hot day. More surface area means more places for body heat to escape from.

14. They're hard to catch.

Rabbit running outdoors.
iStock

If their eyes, ears, and powerful legs don't give them enough of a head start when avoiding predators, rabbits have even more tricks to rely on. The cottontail rabbit moves in a zig-zag pattern when running across an open field, making it hard to target. It also reaches a top speed of 18 mph—they really are "wascally wabbits."

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

Fish Tube: How the 'Salmon Cannon' Works and Why It's Important

PerfectStills/iStock via Getty Images
PerfectStills/iStock via Getty Images

If you’ve been on the internet at any point in the past week, you’ve certainly come across footage of wildlife conservationists stuffing salmon into a giant plastic tube and shuttling them over obstacles. It’s so bizarre—even by the already loose standards of the web—that it briefly ignited discussions over fish welfare, its purpose, and the seeming desire of people to be similarly transported through a pneumatic tunnel into a new life.

Naturally, the “salmon cannon” has a mission beyond amusing the internet. The system was created by Whooshh Innovations, a company that essentially adopted the same kind of transportation system featuring pressurized tubing that's used in banking. Initially, the system was intended to transport fruit over long distances without bruising. At some point, engineers figured they could do the same for fish.

The fish payload is secured at the entrance of the tube—acceptable species can weigh up to 34 pounds—and moves through a smooth, soft plastic tube that conforms to their body shape. Air pressure behind them keeps them moving. The fish are jettisoned between 16 and 26 feet per second to a new location, where they emerge relatively unscathed. Because there’s no need for a water column, the tubing can cover most terrain at virtually any height.

The tubing solution is a human answer to a human problem: dams. With fish largely confined to still bodies of water thanks to dams and facing obstacles swimming upstream to migrate and spawn, fish need some kind of assistance. In the past, “fish ladders” have helped fish move upstream by providing ascending steps they can flop on, but not all fish can navigate such terrain. Another system, trapping and hauling fish like cargo, results in disoriented fish who can even forget how to swim. The Whooshh system, which has been in used in Washington state for at least five years, allows for expedient fish export with an injury rate as little as 3 percent, although study results have varied.

The video features manual insertion of the fish. In the wild, Whooshh counts on fish making semi-voluntary entries into the tubing. Once they swim into an enclosure, they’re curious enough about the tube to go inside.

If all goes well, the system could help salmon be reintroduced to the Upper Columbia River in Washington, where the population has been depleted by dams. Testing of the device there is awaiting approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]

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