European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 62, Issue 1, pp 143–145 | Cite as

Carcass consumption by domestic rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

  • Marcus ClaussEmail author
  • Andreas Lischke
  • Heike Botha
  • Jean-Michel Hatt
Short Communication


Conventional concepts about trophic niches in mammals are often linked to adaptations of digestive physiology, and so carnivory by herbivorous animals is often considered a physiological impossibility. However, numerous reports on events of carnivory in herbivores without apparent harmful consequences exist. Here, we report the habitual daily consumption of animal prey (day-old chicks and rodents) by two rabbits kept in a mixed-species exhibit with raptors over a period of 9 months. While not requiring a change of the classification of rabbits as strict herbivores, anecdotes like this one suggest that some trophic niches might be better explained by other factors than digestive physiology, such as ecological opportunity, behavioural adaptations and biomechanical limits to ingestion.


Herbivory Carnivory Placentophagy Cannibalism Scavenging Coprophagy 


  1. Allan TA (1978) Further evidence of white-tailed deer eating birds in mist nets. Bird-Banding 49:184–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Blair-West JR, Denton DA, McKinley MJ, Radden BG, Ramshaw EH, Wark DWJ, (1992) Behavioral and tissue responses to severe phosphorus depletion in cattle. Am J Physiol 263:R656–R663PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Clark JH, Murphy MR, Crooker BA (1987) Supplying the protein needs of dairy cattle from by-product feeds. J Dairy Sci 70:1092–1109CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Clauss M, Steuer P, Müller DWH, Codron D, Hummel J (2013) Herbivory and body size: allometries of diet quality and gastrointestinal physiology, and implications for herbivore ecology and dinosaur gigantism. PLoS One 8, e68714PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Dudley JP, Hang’ombe MB, Leendertz FH, Dorward LJ, De Castro J, Subalusky AL, Clauss M (2015) Anthrax in Hippopotamus amphibius: implications of carnivory by hippos for the ecology and epidemiology of anthrax in African savanna ecosystems. Mammal Rev. doi: 10.1111/mam.12056
  6. Ebensperger LA (1998) Strategies and counterstrategies to infanticide in mammals. Biol Rev 73:321–346CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Elwood R (1992) Pup-cannibalism in rodents: cause and consequences. In: Elgar MA, Crespi BJ (eds) Cannibalism. Ecology and evolution among diverse taxa. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 299–322Google Scholar
  8. Fekete S, Bokori J (1985) The effect of the fiber and protein level of the ration upon the cecotrophy of rabbit. J Appl Rabbit Res 8:68–71Google Scholar
  9. García J, De Blas JC, Carabaño R, Garcia P (1995) Effect of type of lucerne hay on caecal fermentation and nitrogen contribution through caecotrophy in rabbits. Reprod, Nutr, Dev 35:267–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. González-Redondo P, Zamora-Lozano M (2008) Neonatal cannibalism in cage-bred wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Archivos Med Vet 40:281–287Google Scholar
  11. Hagen KB, Besselmann D, Cyrus-Eulenberger U, Vendl C, Ortmann S, Zingg R, Kienzle E, Kreuzer M, Hatt J-M, Clauss M (2015) Digestive physiology of the plains viscacha (Lagostomus maximus), a large herbivorous hystricomorph rodent. Zoo Biol 34:345–359CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Kristal MB (1980) Placentophagia: a biobehavioral enigma (or De gustibus non disputandum est). Neurosci Biobehav Rev 4:141–150CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Kristal MB (2009) The biopsychology of maternal behavior in nonhuman mammals. Ilar J 50:51–63CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Lev-Yadun S, Ne’eman G, Shanas U (2009) A sheep in wolf’s clothing: do carrion and dung odours of flowers not only attract pollinators but also deter herbivores? Bioessays 31:84–88CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Loerch SC, Berger LL, Plegge SD, Fahey GC (1983) Digestibility and rumen escape of soybean meal, blood meal, meat and bone meal and dehydrated alfalfa nitrogen. J Anim Sci 57:1037–1047Google Scholar
  16. Martin GR, Twigg LE, Zampichelli L (2007) Seasonal changes in the diet of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) from three different Mediterranean habitats in south-western Australia. Wildl Res 34:25–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Martins H, Milne JA, Rego F (2002) Seasonal and spatial variation in the diet of the wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) in Portugal. J Zool 258:395–404CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Melo AI, González-Mariscal G (2003) Placentophagia in rabbits: incidence across the reproductive cycle. Dev Psychobiol 43:37–43CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Nack JL, Ribic CA (2005) Apparent predation by cattle at grassland bird nests. Wilson Bull 117:56–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Pietz PJ, Granfors DA (2000) White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) predation on grassland songbird nestlings. Am Midl Nat 144:419–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Sahu BB, Prasad VSS (1990) Growth performance of Soviet Chinchilla fryers on rations with animal-meals. Indian J Anim Sci 60:211–218Google Scholar
  22. Sawin PB, Carry DD (1953) Genetic and physiological background of reproduction in the rabbit: II. Some racial differences in the pattern of maternal behavior. Behaviour 6:128–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Seddon G (1972) Logical possibility. Mind 81:481–494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Smith RJ (1974) Cannibalism by confined cottontail rabbits. J Wildl Manag 38:576–578CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Wallisdevries MF (1996) Nutritional limitations of free-ranging cattle: the importance of habitat quality. J Appl Ecol 33:688–702CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcus Clauss
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andreas Lischke
    • 2
  • Heike Botha
    • 1
  • Jean-Michel Hatt
    • 1
  1. 1.Clinic for Zoo Animals, Exotic Pets and Wildlife, Vetsuisse FacultyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Bird of Prey Sanctuary Berg am Irchel, PanEcoFoundation for Sustainable Development and Intercultural ExchangeBerg am IrchelSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations