Learn about the rabbit life cycle as part of your spring or Easter unit study. Your kids will love learning about these fuzzy, adorable creatures!
The spring and Easter coming up, it’s the perfect time to plan a unit study on the rabbit life cycle. Plus, they are such adorable animals, your kids will love learning about where bunnies come from.
Rabbits are warm-blooded mammals that give birth to live babies. There are many types of rabbits, with many living in the wild and others being housed as pets. Regardless of whether you’re studying rabbits for general knowledge or for fun, it’s important to understand their life cycle.
Life Cycle of a Rabbit
The rabbit growth stages are as follows: gestation, newborn, adolescent, teenage, young adult, middle age, and old age.
After mating, gestation in rabbits lasts between 31 to 33 days. Though, this may be longer for rabbits with a smaller litter (as the babies have more time to grow).
Usually, the fetuses can be felt in the abdomen around 12 days after mating.
Newborn bunnies, also called kittens or kits, are usually born in litters of five, on average. Depending on the breed of the bunny, these kittens may weigh between 1-1.5 oz and 3.5-4 oz (for larger types).
Infancy is the most difficult stage and the one with a high mortality rate because a kitten cannot regulate its body heat for the first 7 days (they are hairless). Furthermore, its growth is dependent on milk.
Kittens are the most vulnerable in this stage, as a mother can eat her children when she is frightened, or she panics after giving birth.
Unfortunately, in larger litters, feeding can also be a struggle. In such a small space, it’s survival of the fittest and it can be harder for the weakest kittens to get the milk they need.
This is because, at this point in their lives, they cannot see or hear. Luckily, they will usually develop these senses in the next few weeks. Kittens usually begin to open their eyes at around 7 days. Their ears will usually open at around day 12.
The soft bunny fur that we all know and love will begin growing as soon as they are born, with enough fur to keep them warm at around the ninth day.
Kittens rely on their mothers milk for sustenance until they are weaned at around 3 to 5 weeks.
Once a bunny reaches around 3 to 6 months, their sexual organs will develop and mature. At this point, the rabbits are fully independent from the mother – they have all their senses and no longer rely on milk.
Small rabbit breeds usually reach sexual maturity from 3.5 to 4 months. Medium to large breeds will be able to reproduce at 4 to 4.5 months. Giant rabbit breeds, coming in last, reach reproductive age at around 6 months.
Female rabbits, called does, will begin their estrus cycle at this point. The estrus cycle, which is the opposite of the menstrual cycle in women, lasts around 3 to 12 days. Unlike menstruation, a doe reabsorbs the inner lining of the uterus if it fails to conceive.
At this stage, female rabbits may begin to get very aggressive and become very territorial. Intense curiosity and excessive chewing is common at this age. Male rabbits will also begin to court females by spraying urine.
The teenage years in a rabbit typically begin from the point that they reach adolescence up until their first year. Rabbits, at this point, will be fully mature. However, they may seem a little moody. This moodiness will manifest itself most specifically in:
- aggression (biting, scratching, etc.)
- potty accidents
- laid back ears
- teeth grinding
- spraying urine
Young Adult Stage
The young adult stage lasts from 1 to 3 years in rabbits. At this point, they will stop growing almost completely and any hormonal moodiness will go away (for the most part). Young adult rabbits will spend a great deal of time running around and exploring your house.
Middle Age Stage
This stage lasts from 3 to 7 years. As a rabbit enters this stage, they may become less active and more affectionate. They may begin to prefer being around humans, as opposed to exploring around the house.
Old Age Stage
Once a rabbit reaches 7 years, it is said to have reached old age. At this point in their lives, their health may dwindle and they may begin to have trouble cleaning themselves. Unfortunately, it is fairly common for rabbits of this age to experience sight problems.
Luckily, there are some benefits to caring for a bunny that is at this age. Senior rabbits are much calmer and are typically more affectionate towards humans. While in their younger years, they may have preferred to run around, now, they choose to snuggle soundly on their owner’s lap.
How Long Do Rabbits Live?
The rabbit life cycle ranges from 6 to 10 years though it varies across breeds, and some can live up to 12 years. On average, a kitten is a newborn for the first 3 months, and then it moves to adolescence from the 4 to the 6 month and teenage from there until it is 12 months old.
From 1 to 7 years, a rabbit is an adult, and it experiences a phase of slow growth or no growth before it enters old age, where it slows down completely.
The bunny life cycle for rabbits in the wild is 1 year. For rabbits in captivity, it ranges from 8 to 12 years. The life expectancy of wild rabbits is low because they are commonly prey animals.
They have to look for food or find shelter by digging burrows, which puts them closer to predators.
What Does Mating Look Like in Rabbits?
A doe and buck may circle each other to capture attention. The two may also play as one jumps, and the other lies underneath. They may chase each other playfully.
Other courtship rituals include grooming each other, nipping the ears, and mounting each other. They may also feed a short distance from each other as they start bonding. One rabbit may also mirror the action of the other, as they draw closer.
Where did the Word Bunny Come From?
As you go through the rabbit life cycle with your kids, they might be wondering, how come we often call baby rabbits bunnies instead of kittens? After all, it’s the Easter bunny, not the Easter kitten.
The term bunny was originally a term of endearment for a young girl. Over time, people started using the term for cute little animals. Now, we use the term bunny for baby rabbits.
How to Tell How Old a Baby Rabbit Is
Here are a few tips for determining how old a baby rabbit is:
- If your kitten can see and hear, it is at least 12 days old.
- If your kitten is starting to stray further from the nest, playing with other kittens, and nibbling the doe’s food, it is about 3 to 4 weeks old. This is when baby rabbits begin to seek more independence.
- If the mother has just weaned the kitten, it is around 3 to 4 weeks old.
Of course, this is only a general estimate, as this may vary between rabbit breeds. If you are unsure, it is best to take your bunny to a vet specializing in small animals. They will be able to give you a more accurate estimate by looking at its eyes and fur.
Free Printable Rabbit Life Cycle Diagram and Worksheets
I made a free rabbit life cycle diagram and worksheets for you. These printables are geared toward preschoolers, so I simplified the stages in the bunny life cycle into newborn, kit, young, and adult.
There is a worksheet where preschoolers can cut and glue the 4 stages of the life cycle of a rabbit. There is also a worksheet labeling the different parts of a rabbit, such as tail, feet, nose, etc.
Simply fill out the form below and the diagram and worksheets for the life cycle of a rabbit will be delivered to your email.