May 21, 2022


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Why weren’t New World rabbits domesticated?

Graphic: The bones of two rabbits uncovered in the belly contents of an eagle sacrificed at the Solar Pyramid in Teotihuacan, Mexico.
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Credit rating: Nawa Sugiyama/UCR

Domesticated rabbits occur in all dimensions and hues, such as little 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 since the very last Ice Age, culminating in domestication about 1,500 decades back.

The Americas, on the other hand, have lots of rabbit species with ranges all through both equally continents. The archaeological history shows rabbits were applied as extensively in the Americas as they were being on the Iberian Peninsula, with very clear archaeological proof that rabbits had been getting deliberately raised. Why, then, have been rabbits domesticated in Europe and not the Americas?

Latest operate by archaeologists Andrew Somerville of Iowa Condition College and UC Riverside’s Nawa Sugiyama found a simple respond to: European rabbits are living readily in massive social teams even though American cottontail rabbits do not. The significantly less social character of American cottontails mixed with bigger species variety developed a problem in which rabbit husbandry did not lead to domestication.

Sugiyama appeared to Teotihuacan, a big metropolis in Mexico about 2,000 a long time in the past, wherever cottontail rabbits comprised 23% of the animal continues to be through the Basic time period. This was much more than any other animal made use of for meat, which includes wild deer, as very well as domesticated turkeys and puppies. The proportion of rabbit bones improved toward the town middle, suggesting they were being almost certainly being raised, not hunted.

Rabbits have been buried at the Solar and Moon Pyramids and are uncovered in the belly contents of sacrificial carnivores, these as eagles and pumas. Rabbit bones observed in the carnivore stomachs consist of a form of carbon that implies a eating plan unusually wealthy in corn or cactus, suggesting human-elevated rabbits experienced, in switch, been fed to the carnivores.

“The rabbits were being likely fed corn, but the carbon isotopes never distinguish involving corn and cactus, so we cannot say for specific,” Sugiyama reported.

Moreover, 46% of the animal bones excavated in just one condominium compound had been from rabbits that had been fed a identical diet of agricultural crops, and the amount of money of phosphate in the floor of a person room signifies a place exactly where rabbits urinated and were being probably housed. A stone statue of a rabbit was also observed in the complex’s central plaza, reinforcing the worth of rabbit husbandry to the inhabitants.

A thousand years later, the 16th century Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez explained the sale of rabbits at the Aztec marketplace of Tlateloco. Above at least a millennia of husbandry and comprehensive use for foods, fur, and ritual, nonetheless, the rabbits of Mexico did not turn out to be domesticated — a mutualistic, multigenerational connection characterized by human-controlled copy.

To understand why, Somerville in contrast the behavioral ecology of European rabbits and American cottontails against requirements that “prime” or preadapt animals for domestication. Animals that have been domesticated commonly dwell in teams with resident males. They also have young that imprint quickly and call for parental treatment, a promiscuous mating method, tolerance for a huge assortment of environments, and very low reactivity to human beings.

European and American rabbits were being identical across all conditions other than social behavior. European rabbits dwell in underground spouse and children burrows, referred to as warrens, of up to 20 persons that incorporate males, who defend their breeding territory from other males. Warrens manufactured it effortless for folks to track down and control wild rabbit populations, then mimic those people situations in captivity, where rabbits quickly reproduced.

American cottontails, on the other hand, are solitary, reside fully over ground, and have a tendency to combat in enclosures together. Males do not defend a breeding territory and pursue far more opportunistic mating tactics.

Somerville and Sugiyama conclude that their solitary character, tendency to combat in enclosures, dispersed territories, and less predictable mating systems made it possible to elevate rabbits devoid of forming the kind of mutual romance that would sooner or later give people ample regulate above a species to immediate its evolution. Bigger species range also manufactured it considerably less very likely that any one of them would come to be domesticated.


The open up-obtain paper, “Why were New Earth rabbits not domesticated?” is released in Animal Frontiers and available in this article.&#13

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