Domesticated rabbits appear in all measurements and colours, which include very small Netherland Dwarfs, floppy-eared French lops, Flemish Giants, and fluffy Angoras.
These breeds belong to Europe’s only rabbit species, at first limited to the Iberian Peninsula and Southern France and employed for meat and fur due to the fact the last Ice Age, culminating in domestication about 1,500 many years in the past.
The Americas, on the other hand, have many rabbit species with ranges through both equally continents. The archaeological history demonstrates rabbits ended up utilized as thoroughly in the Americas as they were on the Iberian Peninsula, with clear archaeological evidence that rabbits were being being deliberately elevated. Why, then, were rabbits domesticated in Europe and not the Americas?
Modern get the job done by archaeologists Andrew Somerville of Iowa State College and UC Riverside’s Nawa Sugiyama observed a very simple answer: European rabbits live commonly in large social teams when American cottontail rabbits do not. The significantly less social character of American cottontails mixed with higher species range created a circumstance where rabbit husbandry did not direct to domestication.
Sugiyama appeared to Teotihuacan, a main metropolis in Mexico about 2,000 years back, where by cottontail rabbits comprised 23% of the animal remains throughout the Typical period. This was much more than any other animal utilised for meat, like wild deer, as properly as domesticated turkeys and canines. The proportion of rabbit bones greater toward the metropolis center, suggesting they were most likely getting elevated, not hunted.
Rabbits were being buried at the Sunshine and Moon Pyramids and are observed in the tummy contents of sacrificial carnivores, this kind of as eagles and pumas. Rabbit bones observed in the carnivore stomachs consist of a sort of carbon that suggests a diet unusually wealthy in corn or cactus, suggesting human-raised rabbits had, in flip, been fed to the carnivores.
“The rabbits were being most likely fed corn, but the carbon isotopes you should not distinguish amongst corn and cactus, so we cannot say for particular,” Sugiyama reported.
Also, 46% of the animal bones excavated in one particular condominium compound have been from rabbits that had been fed a identical food plan of agricultural crops, and the amount of money of phosphate in the flooring of a person area signifies a spot where by rabbits urinated and ended up almost certainly housed. A stone statue of a rabbit was also uncovered in the complex’s central plaza, reinforcing the importance of rabbit husbandry to the inhabitants.
A thousand a long time later, the 16th century Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez described the sale of rabbits at the Aztec market of Tlateloco. About at minimum a millennia of husbandry and considerable use for meals, fur, and ritual, on the other hand, the rabbits of Mexico did not become domesticated — a mutualistic, multigenerational relationship characterized by human-controlled reproduction.
To fully grasp why, Somerville compared the behavioral ecology of European rabbits and American cottontails versus criteria that “prime” or preadapt animals for domestication. Animals that have been domesticated typically stay in groups with resident males. They also have young that imprint conveniently and demand parental treatment, a promiscuous mating technique, tolerance for a large variety of environments, and small reactivity to people.
European and American rabbits were identical across all requirements other than social habits. European rabbits dwell in underground family burrows, identified as warrens, of up to 20 persons that incorporate males, who defend their breeding territory from other males. Warrens built it effortless for persons to find and handle wild rabbit populations, then mimic individuals situations in captivity, the place rabbits easily reproduced.
American cottontails, on the other hand, are solitary, reside solely previously mentioned ground, and are inclined to fight in enclosures with each other. Males do not protect a breeding territory and go after much more opportunistic mating methods.
Somerville and Sugiyama conclude that their solitary nature, tendency to battle in enclosures, dispersed territories, and less predictable mating techniques created it feasible to increase rabbits devoid of forming the variety of mutual connection that would eventually give individuals adequate handle about a species to immediate its evolution. Higher species diversity also designed it significantly less probably that any a person of them would turn into domesticated.
The open up-entry paper, “Why were New Earth rabbits not domesticated?” is released in Animal Frontiers.