Class acts

There are tough jobs I'm grateful someone is able to perform, because I sure wouldn't want to do them. I wouldn't survive a day as a roofer in the summer in Texas. I wouldn't want to fight oil well fires with the late Red Adair. I just don't have the stomach to be in the press corp covering the presidential candidates, especially Hillary. And I really wouldn't want to be the preschool class pet the first week of summer school.

Talk about a tough assignment! For most of this first week of summer school the real class pet rabbit must have wished he was a velveteen rabbit. Being real is a really hard job in the preschool classroom. The new students are split between those who are screaming mimi terrified of the pet, and those who are crazed in their vigorous pursuit and high-volume loving of the bunny.

Somewhere there ought to be a Velveteen Class Pet Rabbit Rest Ranch and Retirement Community (gated) for those bunnies who have so bravely served our nation's preschoolers. I want to know where the candidates stand on improving conditions for elderly preschool pets!

Think on that a bit, then think on this sculpture in the garden of the Philbrook Art Museum in Tulsa. Is he wondering how the tortoise beat him, or the preschooler? "Thinker on a Rock", 1996, by Barry Flanagan, bronze.

My dad has bunny babies in his backyard. They have more to worry about from the neighborhood dogs than from overly enthusiastic three-year-olds. Thought I knew a lot about rabbits, having read Watership Down once. North American cottontails are very different from the Northern Europeans rabbits in that work of fiction.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Nebraska Wildlife Species website includes this information on eastern cottontails:

A rabbit uses above-ground structures called "fomms" and underground holes such as those of badger, prairie dog and woodchuck for escape and shelter. Fomms are pockets the rabbit creates by trampling down small areas of grass and small shrubs. It uses fomms at night and during daytime rest periods throughout the year, even during the reproductive period. After her litter is born, the female cottontail stays in a fomm near the nest, only visiting her nest at dawn and dusk. The cottontail uses underground holes for emergency escape throughout the year and during winter for shelter.

A rabbit nest is a shallow depression that the female digs and lines with grass and fur. Because the female does not stay at the nest after the litter is born, she covers the young with grass and fur to help protect them from predators while she is away.

The breeding season begins in February in Nebraska. With a gestation period of 28 days and the capability of a female to become pregnant the day after giving birth, litters can be produced on a monthly basis. By late June this efficiency breaks down and the female may not breed for several days or not at all after giving birth. A female cottontail may have five to seven litters of four to five young in one year. Therefore, many rabbits can be produced in a year that has suitable weather for food availability and nest survival. In several studies the number of juvenile cottontails taken by hunters in the fall compared to the number of adult rabbits is 80-85%, which is an indication of very high reproductive rates.

Young rabbits are an easy-to-catch and plentiful food for many predator species from weasels to coyotes to birds of prey, making them a very important part of the food chain. As vegetative habitat dries in the fall, escape cover is reduced and the rabbits become more and more exposed to predators. Many of the young produced each spring and summer are not alive by winter and even fewer are available for breeding the next spring. This is the typical reproductive strategy of such a highly used prey species -- produce large numbers of young quickly to ensure that some will survive to reproduce the next year.

Wild rabbits would probably wish to have the easy life of a classroom bunny. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

1 comment:

Genevieve said...

I suppose it's a good thing that so many little rabbits are eaten up. The world would be overrun with them if they all lived. Still I hate to think about it because I have known a little wild rabbit and he was a sweet little animal.


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