Known for their quick reproductive cycle, female rabbits, called does, are capable of producing and weaning up to 60 individuals in a year. Male rabbits, called bucks, can create more offspring than the females, because they do not have to wait through the gestation period before fertilizing more eggs. Bucks tend to accept any doe, but does are choosier in their breeding partners.
The age of sexual maturity varies among the species of rabbit, but all does become capable of reproduction before they are one year old. For every species, bucks reach maturity later than does. Breeding reaches its most productive stage in the early spring, but does breed throughout the year. They can breed immediately after giving birth, but they naturally have longer gaps between breeding in the cooler months. When their bodies are ready for mating, does enter heat, rubbing against items and seeking other rabbits.
Ten hours after breeding, an endocrine response causes the does to begin ovulation. Some breeders place does with bucks approximately 12 hours after the first mating to ensure that the ovulation response activates properly. Ovulation can lead to fertilization of more than a dozen eggs. Once the eggs are fertilized, the fetal rabbits develop for an average of 30-31 days in the womb. Because rabbits are mammals, each embryo uses its own placenta to draw nutrients and other necessities for proper development from the mother.
Because does are induced ovulators, or reflexive ovulators, sometimes their bodies may trigger ovulation but fertilization never occurs. According to the 4-H, physical stimulation and sterile bucks cause most false pregnancies, or pseudopregnancies. During a false pregnancy, a doe’s body reacts as though it is pregnant, including the swollen mammary glands and nesting instincts. Does may even pull out their own fur for material to create nests. On the 17th or 18th day after ovulation, the doe’s body returns to its normal nonpregnant status.
To prepare for birth, called kindling, the doe goes through a short nesting period. As a mammal, the doe gives birth to live babies, called kits. A litter averages six to eight kits, and the kits weigh between 50 and 60 grams. The doe is capable of breeding again within minutes of kindling. However, most breeders prefer to wait at least 35 days before starting the cycle again, particularly if the litter is much larger than average. The does nurse the kits for 4-6 weeks before weaning them.
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images