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Oryctolagus cuniculus

Rabbits have greyish-brown fur, a pale belly and long ears, although shorter than those of a hare. The tail has a white underside, which may act as a warning to other rabbits when escaping from danger. An adult rabbit can measure up to 40cm in length and weigh up to 2kg. They are thought to have been introduced to the UK by the Normans although there is evidence to suggest they may have been brought over several hundred years earlier by the Romans. Rabbits are native to the Iberian Peninsula, where they are classified as an endangered species. The species is now considered naturalised in the UK.

Rabbits favour areas of short vegetation close to suitable burrowing sites but can be found in a wide variety of habitats, from heaths, meadows and grasslands, to hedgerows and woodland edges. The species is almost exclusively herbivorous and feeds on a range of vegetation, including grasses, leaves, shoots, bulbs and bark.

Rabbits are territorial and live in hierarchical social groups that can range from a single pair to up to 30 individuals. While generally nocturnal, they may be seen during the daytime if undisturbed. Females (does) are sexually mature at four months and can produce one litter of three to seven kits or kittens every month during the breeding season (January-August). Kittens are born blind, deaf and hairless, but are weaned within 21-25 days. The main threats to the species are disease and predation, predominantly from stoats, fox, weasels, badgers, domestic cats and birds of prey.

Once widespread, the UK rabbit population has been decimated in recent decades by myxomatosis and rabbit haemorrhagic disease (RHD), with numbers plummeting by over 80% in some areas. The species has no legal protection in the UK and is seen by many as a pest due to the damage it causes to crops. However, the rabbit has become the focus of an innovative conservation scheme in East Anglia, where its grazing and burrowing habits are being used to help rare plant and animal species flourish.

Rabbits are present across Somerset and are found almost anywhere they can burrow. Warren entrances are most commonly found on slopes and banks - look out for worn tracks in the grass, patches of spoil and piles of droppings.

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