Why weren’t New World rabbits domesticated?

Cortez Deacetis


Picture: The bones of two rabbits located in the abdomen contents of an eagle sacrificed at the Sun Pyramid in Teotihuacan, Mexico.
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Credit score: Nawa Sugiyama/UCR

Domesticated rabbits come in all sizes 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, originally confined to the Iberian Peninsula and Southern France and utilized for meat and fur considering the fact that the very last Ice Age, culminating in domestication about 1,500 yrs ago.

The Americas, on the other hand, have many rabbit species with ranges through the two continents. The archaeological document reveals rabbits had been used as thoroughly in the Americas as they were being on the Iberian Peninsula, with apparent archaeological proof that rabbits ended up remaining intentionally lifted. Why, then, were being rabbits domesticated in Europe and not the Americas?

New work by archaeologists Andrew Somerville of Iowa Point out College and UC Riverside’s Nawa Sugiyama found a straightforward answer: European rabbits reside readily in significant social teams although American cottontail rabbits do not. The less social mother nature of American cottontails mixed with larger species diversity made a predicament the place rabbit husbandry did not lead to domestication.

Sugiyama looked to Teotihuacan, a major city in Mexico about 2,000 yrs ago, in which cottontail rabbits comprised 23{0841e0d75c8d746db04d650b1305ad3fcafc778b501ea82c6d7687ee4903b11a} of the animal continues to be throughout the Classic period of time. This was additional than any other animal made use of for meat, such as wild deer, as properly as domesticated turkeys and dogs. The proportion of rabbit bones greater towards the town middle, suggesting they were most likely remaining lifted, not hunted.

Rabbits were buried at the Solar and Moon Pyramids and are found in the abdomen contents of sacrificial carnivores, this sort of as eagles and pumas. Rabbit bones located in the carnivore stomachs comprise a variety of carbon that signifies a diet plan unusually wealthy in corn or cactus, suggesting human-lifted rabbits had, in flip, been fed to the carnivores.

“The rabbits were probably fed corn, but the carbon isotopes you should not distinguish in between corn and cactus, so we can’t say for selected,” Sugiyama mentioned.

In addition, 46{0841e0d75c8d746db04d650b1305ad3fcafc778b501ea82c6d7687ee4903b11a} of the animal bones excavated in just one apartment compound ended up from rabbits that experienced been fed a very similar eating plan of agricultural crops, and the quantity of phosphate in the ground of a single room implies a locale the place rabbits urinated and were being likely housed. A stone statue of a rabbit was also uncovered in the complex’s central plaza, reinforcing the relevance of rabbit husbandry to the residents.

A thousand many years later, the 16th century Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez explained the sale of rabbits at the Aztec marketplace of Tlateloco. Around at least a millennia of husbandry and in depth use for food, fur, and ritual, even so, the rabbits of Mexico did not grow to be domesticated — a mutualistic, multigenerational connection characterized by human-managed copy.

To have an understanding of why, Somerville in contrast the behavioral ecology of European rabbits and American cottontails versus standards that “prime” or preadapt animals for domestication. Animals that have been domesticated generally live in teams with resident males. They also have youthful that imprint simply and involve parental care, a promiscuous mating program, tolerance for a wide variety of environments, and reduced reactivity to human beings.

European and American rabbits ended up equivalent throughout all conditions other than social behavior. European rabbits reside in underground family members burrows, known as warrens, of up to 20 individuals that include males, who protect their breeding territory from other males. Warrens made it straightforward for individuals to locate and regulate wild rabbit populations, then mimic these circumstances in captivity, wherever rabbits conveniently reproduced.

American cottontails, on the other hand, are solitary, are living fully over ground, and are inclined to struggle in enclosures alongside one another. Males do not protect a breeding territory and go after extra opportunistic mating procedures.

Somerville and Sugiyama conclude that their solitary character, tendency to fight in enclosures, dispersed territories, and less predictable mating methods produced it possible to raise rabbits devoid of forming the kind of mutual marriage that would eventually give individuals ample command around a species to direct its evolution. Better species diversity also produced it significantly less possible that any 1 of them would come to be domesticated.


The open-accessibility paper, “Why ended up New Environment rabbits not domesticated?” is printed in Animal Frontiers and available below.&#13

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