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The Pattern of Behaviour of Rabbit Pups in the Nest

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Domestic rabbit pups (22 litters of 6 pups each) were raised in plexiglass nest boxes, and their behaviour was studied under various experimental conditions during the first 14 days of life. 1. Rabbit pups show a stereotyped pattern of behaviour closely associated with the once daily nursing visit of the doe until they start to leave the nest on day 13. 2. One to two hours before nursing pups group tightly together and become exposed from the nest material. In young litters these behaviours appear to improve access to the doe's belly and to shorten the time the doe spends in the nest. 3. Rabbit pups are unusual in that they display a vigorous burst of post-nursing activity, i.e. simultaneous urination followed by digging and burrowing around the nest. This activity is triggered by the nursing act and appears to contribute to thermoregulatory efficiency as an insulating cover is quickly regained. 4. Within about 30 minutes pups reaggregate and remain well covered until the next nursing time. 5. The anticipatory uncovering appears to represent a circadian rhythm, and not to be simply due to hunger, as demonstrated in isolated litters deprived of one nursing. 6. Presumably the less time wild does spend in the nursery burrow the less chance there is of predators trapping them or finding the young. The ability of the pups to anticipate the nursing and the their thermoregulatory self-sufficiency may contribute to shortening the time rabbit does must spend in the nest.

Affiliations: 1: Institut für Medizinische Psychologie, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, F.R.G.


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