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Rabbits/Non urgent question about wild/domestic interbreeding


I am in a discussion regarding whether or not a feral domestic rabbit could breed with, say, a cottontail. Some say no in North America, but yes in Europe because that's where the domestic rabbit originated.

Dear Mary,

A domestic rabbit in Europe can successfully breed with a wild rabbit there because they are the same species (Oryctolagus cuniculus), despite their superficial differences in appearance.

In North America, however, our wild, native rabbits are in the genus Sylvilagus (several different species, and the one you have depends on where you are).  They cannot interbreed with domestic rabbits.  I live with both, since we have many happy cottontails in our back yard sanctuary.  Although the two species live side by side and keep company quite contentedly, they show absolutely no sexual interest in each other.  (All our domestic rabbits are spayed/neutered, but the females keep their ovaries, so have not lost all their sex drive.)

We also have jackrabbits, in the genus Lepus.  The domestics and jackrabbits get along fine, but they are not sexually interested in each other.

Interestingly, we had a cottie long ago who had a wild crush on all the jackrabbits!  He would lope after them, singing his little sexy love song.  They would run from him, obviously amused or annoyed, since they were doing head binkies as they ran, and would playfully stay *juuuuust* out of his reach until they tired of the game and took off at 45mph.  

But there is very little chance that a cottontail could successfully produce offspring with a hare, even if they mated.  (Lyle never did get lucky.)

Even if they did mate, it is not likely they could produce fertile, viable offspring, as their genomes diverged quite a long time ago.

Hope that helps.



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Dana Krempels, Ph.D.


I've lived with companion rabbits for more than 35 years, and consider them members of my family. I can answer any questions about the biology and health of rabbits, from the commonplace to the unusual. But please note:

RULE #1:

Find a rabbit vet at for immediate help, and don't risk your bunny's life by spending time asking questions online! If you can't get in touch with your vet, read these Emergency Sick Bunny Instructions.

If you have found a wild baby rabbit, please read these EMERGENCY INSTRUCTIONS FOR WILD BABY RABBITS and then use this link to FIND A LOCAL WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR who can give you the right advice.

RULE #2:
Help me help you! Please make your subject line informative if you have an urgent question. then LET ME KNOW IN THE SUBJECT LINE so I can give your question highest priority over non-urgent questions. If you don't do this, then I can't guarantee timely assistance!

For all the best, most accurate rabbit health, care and behavior information, visit The House Rabbit Society.


I have been rescuing and rehabilitating domestic and wild rabbits for about 30 years. I have written articles for many rabbit rescue publications, as well as for the veterinary journal, Exotic DVM. I own EtherBun, the internet's largest listserve dedicated to health, care, and behavior of domestic rabbits.

Houserabbit Adoption, Rescue, and Education, Inc. (H.A.R.E., Inc.) president National House Rabbit Society (Board member)

Exotic DVM
Warren Peace (Journal of the House Rabbit Society of Miami)
Various newsletters of the House Rabbit Society, nationwide

Ph.D - Biology
B.S. - Biology
B.A. - English

Awards and Honors
Lightspan Academic Excellence Award for web site on rabbit health and biology

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