Oryctolagus cuniculus | European Rabbit
First reported in the wild
Invasive species - risk of Medium Impact
Introduction pathways - 1
Escape from Confinement
Introduction pathways subclass - 1
NAPRA Ireland risk assessed
Medium sized mammal, smaller than Irish or brown hare; ears lacking with black tips, hind legs shorted in relation to body than in hare; white under tail sometimes visible when running; and running gait markedly different to hare, 'scurries' rather than 'bounds' (Cowan & Hartley, 2008).
Thought to have the largest economic impact of any introduced animal in Britain & Ireland (Lever, 2009), they eat a wide variety of cereals, roots, horticulture and commercial forestry species and the damage to British agriculture is estimated at £115 million (Cowan & Hartley, 2008; Lever, 2009). The Irish Hare survey of 2006/2007 found there was a negative relationship between the number of hares seen and the abundance of rabbits (Reid et al., 2007a) and their is a strong dietary overlap between rabbits and hares (Wolfe et al., 1996) and some agri-environment schemes targeting hares may alter the habitat to benefit rabbits rather than hares (Reid et al., 2007b). However foxes, stoats, red kites buzzards, a number of owl species and golden eagles are all thought to rely on rabbits as a food source to varying degrees (Lever, 2009).
Grasslands and landscapes dominated by forbs, mosses or lichens; Heath, scrubland & tundra; Woodland, forest and other wooded land; Regularly or recently cultivated agricultural, horticultural or domestic habitat; Constructed, industrial or other artificial habitats; Miscellaneous
Extended breeding season with a succession of litters produced from January to August, with 3-7 kits at a minimum interval of 30 days between litters (Cowan & Hartley, 2008).
Pathway and vector description
The earliest reference to rabbits in Ireland is a charter to Hugh de Lacy in Connacht granting him the rights to keep warrens in 1204 (Veale, 1957). While the history of the introduction of rabbits is relatively well documented the timing of their escape and naturalisation is less well known, though by 1635 at a park in Wexford "there are too many, so as they pester the ground" (Lever, 2009).
Mechanism of impact
Short grassland, either natural (dry heaths or machair) or closely grazed agricultural pastures with secure refuges (burrows, hedgerows, woodland) nearby is the most preferred habitat of rabbits (Cowan & Hartley, 2008), though they also occur on sand dunes, in woodlands, though not in coniferous plantations (Cowan & Hartley, 2008; Lever, 2009; Marnell et al., 2009)
Established - Widespread & Common, possibly more common in eastern and south western parts of the country (Reid et al., 2007). No population estimate exists for Ireland but it is thought to be stable, after accounting for natural fluctuations (Marnell et al., 2009).
Originally native to Iberia, France and North Africa, now widely introduced elsewhere, two sub populations exist: O. c. algirus (found in Portugal and southern Spain)and O. c. cuniculus, which occurs to the north and west of O. c. algirus (Biju-Duval et al. 1991; Smith & Boyer, 2008).
Date of first record category
Fifty year date category
Records submitted to Data Centre in 2023
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How can you help
Report any sightings to the National Biodiversity Data Centre.
Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) of the SSC- Species Survival Commission of the IUCN -International Union for Conservation Nature consider the rabbit one of the 100 Worst Invaders globally.
Reid, N., Dingerkus, K., Montgomery, W.I., Marnell, F., Jeffrey, R., Lynn, D., Kingston, N. & McDonald, R.A. (2007a) Status of hares in Ireland. Irish Wildlife Manuals, No. 30. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dublin, Ireland. Veale, E.M. (1957). The rabbit in England. Agricultural History Review 5:85-90. Cowan, D.P. & Hartley, F.G. (2008). Genus Oryctolagus Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus In: Mammals of the British Isles : Handbook, 4th edition Harris, S. & Yalden, D.W. (eds) The Mammal Society, UK. Lever, C. (2009). The Naturalized Animals of Britain and Ireland. New Holland, UK. Marnell, F., Kingston, N. & Looney, D. (2009) Ireland Red List No. 3: Terrestrial Mammals, National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Dublin, Ireland. Smith, A.T. & Boyer, A.F. 2008. Oryctolagus cuniculus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2008 [Online]. Biju-Duval, C., Ennafaa, H., Dennebouy, N., Monnerot, M., Mignotte, F., Soriguer, R. C., El Gaaied, A., El Hili, A. & Mounolou, J. C. (1991). Mitochondrial DNA evolution in lagomorphs: origin of systematic heteroplasmy and organization of diversity in European rabbits. Journal of Molecular Evolution, 33(1), 92-102. Wolfe, A., Whelan, J., & Hayden, T. J. (1996, October). Dietary overlap between the Irish mountain hare Lepus timidus hibernicus and the rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus on coastal grassland. In Biology and Environment: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy (pp. 89-95). Royal Irish Academy. Reid, N., McDonald, R. A., & Montgomery, W. (2007b). Mammals and agri-environment schemes: hare haven or pest paradise?. Journal of Applied Ecology, 44(6), 1200-1208.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Global Invasive Species Database