Easter is a popular holiday that is celebrated all over the world. With the Easter Bunny folklore, it is not surprising that people actually think that rabbits lay eggs. After all, everywhere around Easter Time, you see bunnies, baskets, and colorful eggs.
But do rabbits actually lay eggs, or might that just be the Easter Hare? Neither rabbits nor hares lay eggs. They are placental mammals, so once a female rabbit (called a doe) falls pregnant, the embryos develop inside her uterus. After a period of 31 to 33 days, the mommy rabbit gives birth to a litter of 5-12 bunnies.
We’re sure you are curious about how bunnies got mixed up with Easter and where the “rabbits lay eggs” myth originated from. Let’s bust the myths and straighten the facts.
History and Origin of the Egg-Laying Rabbit – The Easter Bunny
The whole idea that the Easter Hare lays eggs may have originated from a spring celebration by pagans. Eventually, this pre-Christian concept was linked to Easter as Christianity borrowed many ideas from paganism.
But back to the Spring Equinox festival, which celebrated the coming spring, fertility, and rebirth. After a long winter, the pagan’s goddess of spring, whose name was Eastre, magically changed a frozen bird into a snow hare. And the hare could lay colorful eggs.
Rabbits have a fast reproduction rate with up to four litters being kindled every year. This made bunnies and eggs the ideal symbols of spring, and then later, symbols of Easter.
There is also another story of how the egg-laying rabbit came to be. In the 1700s, German Lutheran immigrants who settled in the Pennsylvania Dutch Community brought this idea to America.
Back home in Germany, the settlers would leave their hats outside their homes on the night before Easter. They would hope that the Easter Hare, or “Oschter Haws,” an egg-laying rabbit, would come by and conclude that they are good children.
On Easter morning, the children would rush outside to see what the Easter Bunny left for them as good children got colorful eggs and other treats. Children who were judged to be bad would find … you guessed it … rabbit poop in the hat.
Then there is also yet another version. During Lent, Catholics weren’t allowed to consume any animal products. The eggs that were laid by chickens in the week running up to Easter were thus not eaten. Instead, they were decorated and given as gifts.
The church eventually adopted this tradition, and in the 19th century, the gifts that were given to children were chocolate eggs.
As mentioned earlier, rabbits are a symbol of new life considering how fast they procreate, and this kind perfectly ties in with what Christians celebrate during the Easter holiday: new life with the resurrection of Jesus.
As we know it today, Easter is when children go on Easter egg hunts to find chocolate eggs wrapped in bright colored paper that the Easter Bunny left for them to find.
The Truth About Rabbit Pregnancy
So there you have it. Rabbits do not lay eggs, but how are baby bunnies born then?
How Does a Rabbit Give Birth?
Rabbits are non-egg laying mammals (and yes, some mammals do lay eggs like the platypus and echidna). As such, rabbits give birth to their babies after a gestation period of about a month, and the birth-giving process is called kindling.
Rabbit babies, called kittens, are born much the same way as human babies are born. The kindling typically takes place in the early hours of the morning and lasts for about 15 minutes. Rabbits rarely need human help during the kindling as it’s an instinctive process for them.
What Are the Signs of a Pregnant Rabbit?
There are a few signs to check for if you suspect your pet rabbit is pregnant.
The first one is similar to humans. When your rabbit’s belly starts to grow, it’s likely a sign of pregnancy. After nearly two weeks after breeding, you’ll feel marble-sized bumps inside your rabbit’s tummy.
Does, or female rabbits, will also eat more.
The pregnant rabbit will build a nest in which they’ll give birth when it’s time for their kittens to be born. If there is no nest box in which to give birth, the doe will dig a burrow.
Female rabbits will ensure their space, aka the nest box, is comfortable. They will collect hay, blankets, or bedding, or even pull out their own fur to line the nest box. This is to keep the baby bunnies warm.
Your female pet rabbit may also become aggressive, refusing to be stroked or petted. She can also growl defensively when you come near. She may also be moody, unfriendly, or cranky.
How Long Do Rabbits Nest Before Giving Birth?
Generally, rabbits nest for about a week before they give birth. If the doe starts pulling out her fur and lining the nest box with it, you can expect that the kittens will be born within a day or two.
How Many Babies Do Rabbits Have in Their First Litter?
For her first litter, a doe can give birth to as many as 14 kittens. However, the average number of baby bunnies is around 6.
Not all of these kittens will survive as the first-time mom may be unable to care for all of her babies. As the pet owner, you should ensure all the bunnies are well-fed and kept warm.
There you have all the facts. Rabbits don’t lay eggs, even though the Easter myths of the Easter Bunny and the brightly colored eggs talk about an egg-laying rabbit. Rabbits similarly give birth as humans do.
The origin of the rabbit laying eggs is very much still a mystery with various stories being passed down from generation to generation. Does it matter? The Easter Bunny is such a big part of our culture that it doesn’t. But it does make for interesting story-telling.