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Hares and cottontail rabbits live a relatively solitary life in a simple nest above the ground, while most rabbits live in social groups in burrows or warrens.
Hares are generally larger than rabbits, with ears that are more elongated, and with hind legs that are larger and longer. Hares have not been domesticated , while descendants of the European rabbit are commonly bred as livestock and kept as pets.
Rabbits have long been domesticated. Beginning in the Middle Ages , the European rabbit has been widely kept as livestock , starting in ancient Rome.
Selective breeding has generated a wide variety of rabbit breeds , of which many since the early 19th century are also kept as pets.
Some strains of rabbit have been bred specifically as research subjects. As livestock, rabbits are bred for their meat and fur. The earliest breeds were important sources of meat, and so became larger than wild rabbits, but domestic rabbits in modern times range in size from dwarf to giant.
Rabbit fur, prized for its softness, can be found in a broad range of coat colors and patterns, as well as lengths. The Angora rabbit breed, for example, was developed for its long, silky fur, which is often hand-spun into yarn.
Other domestic rabbit breeds have been developed primarily for the commercial fur trade , including the Rex , which has a short plush coat.
Because the rabbit's epiglottis is engaged over the soft palate except when swallowing, the rabbit is an obligate nasal breather.
Rabbits have two sets of incisor teeth, one behind the other. This way they can be distinguished from rodents , with which they are often confused.
However, recent DNA analysis and the discovery of a common ancestor has supported the view that they do share a common lineage, and thus rabbits and rodents are now often referred to together as members of the superorder Glires.
Since speed and agility are a rabbit's main defenses against predators including the swift fox , rabbits have large hind leg bones and well developed musculature.
Though plantigrade at rest, rabbits are on their toes while running, assuming a more digitigrade form. Rabbits use their strong claws for digging and along with their teeth for defense.
Each hind foot has four toes but no dewclaw. Most wild rabbits especially compared to hares have relatively full, egg-shaped bodies.
The soft coat of the wild rabbit is agouti in coloration or, rarely, melanistic , which aids in camouflage. The tail of the rabbit with the exception of the cottontail species is dark on top and white below.
Cottontails have white on the top of their tails. As a result of the position of the eyes in its skull, the rabbit has a field of vision that encompasses nearly degrees, with just a small blind spot at the bridge of the nose.
The anatomy of rabbits' hind limbs are structurally similar to that of other land mammals and contribute to their specialized form of locomotion.
The bones of the hind limbs consist of long bones the femur, tibia, fibula, and phalanges as well as short bones the tarsals. These bones are created through endochondral ossification during development.
Like most land mammals, the round head of the femur articulates with the acetabulum of the ox coxae. The femur articulates with the tibia, but not the fibula, which is fused to the tibia.
The tibia and fibula articulate with the tarsals of the pes, commonly called the foot. The hind limbs of the rabbit are longer than the front limbs.
This allows them to produce their hopping form of locomotion. Longer hind limbs are more capable of producing faster speeds.
Hares , which have longer legs than cottontail rabbits , are able to move considerably faster. The hind feet have four long toes that allow for this and are webbed to prevent them from spreading when hopping.
Instead, they have coarse compressed hair that offers protection. Rabbits have muscled hind legs that allow for maximum force, maneuverability, and acceleration that is divided into three main parts; foot, thigh, and leg.
The hind limbs of a rabbit are an exaggerated feature, that are much longer than the forelimbs providing more force. Rabbits run on their toes to gain the optimal stride during locomotion.
The force put out by the hind limbs is contributed to both the structural anatomy of the fusion tibia and fibula, and muscular features.
Action pressure from muscles creates force that is then distributed through the skeletal structures.
Rabbits that generate less force, putting less stress on bones are more prone to osteoporosis due to bone rarefaction.
For example, hares have a greater resistance to fatigue than cottontails. The muscles of rabbit's hind limbs can be classified into four main categories: hamstrings , quadriceps , dorsiflexors , or plantar flexors.
The quadriceps muscles are in charge of force production when jumping. Complementing these muscles are the hamstrings which aid in short bursts of action.
These muscles play off of one another in the same way as the plantar flexors and doriflexors, contributing to the generation and actions associated with force.
Within the order lagomorphs , the ears are utilized to detect and avoid predators. In the family Leporidae , the ears are typically longer than they are wide.
For example, in black tailed jack rabbits , their long ears cover a greater surface area relative to their body size that allow them to detect predators from far away.
Contrasted to cotton tailed rabbits, their ears are smaller and shorter, requiring predators to be closer to detect them before they can flee. Evolution has favored rabbits having shorter ears so the larger surface area does not cause them to lose heat in more temperate regions.
The opposite can be seen in rabbits that live in hotter climates, mainly because they possess longer ears that have a larger surface area that help with dispersion of heat as well as the theory that sound does not travel well in more arid air, opposed to cooler air.
Therefore, longer ears are meant to aid the organism in detecting predators sooner rather than later in warmer temperatures.
The ear muscles also aid in maintaining balance and movement when fleeing predators. The auricle , also known as the pinna, is a rabbit's outer ear.
Another theory is that the ears function as shock absorbers that could aid and stabilize rabbit's vision when fleeing predators, but this has typically only been seen in hares.
The middle ear is filled with three bones called ossicles and is separated by the outer eardrum in the back of the rabbit's skull.
The three ossicles are called hammer, anvil, and stirrup and act to decrease sound before it hits the inner ear. In general, the ossicles act as a barrier to the inner ear for sound energy.
Inner ear fluid called endolymph receives the sound energy. After receiving the energy, later within the inner ear there are two parts: the cochlea that utilizes sound waves from the ossicles and the vestibular apparatus that manages the rabbit's position in regards to movement.
Within the cochlea there is a basilar membrane that contains sensory hair structures utilized to send nerve signals to the brain so it can recognize different sound frequencies.
Within the vestibular apparatus the rabbit possesses three semicircular canals to help detect angular motion. Thermoregulation is the process that an organism utilizes to maintain an optimal body temperature independent of external conditions.
Homeostasis of body temperature is maintained by the use of their large, highly vascularized ears that are able to change the amount of blood flow that passes through the ears.
Constriction and dilation of blood vessels in the ears are used to control the core body temperature of a rabbit. If the core temperature exceeds its optimal temperature greatly, blood flow is constricted to limit the amount of blood going through the vessels.
With this constriction, there is only a limited amount of blood that is passing through the ears where ambient heat would be able to heat the blood that is flowing through the ears and therefore, increasing the body temperature.
Constriction is also used when the ambient temperature is much lower than that of the rabbit's core body temperature.
When the ears are constricted it again limits blood flow through the ears to conserve the optimal body temperature of the rabbit.
If the ambient temperature is either 15 degrees above or below the optimal body temperature, the blood vessels will dilate. With the blood vessels being enlarged, the blood is able to pass through the large surface area which causes it to either heat or cool down.
During the summer, the rabbit has the capability to stretch its pinnae which allows for greater surface area and increase heat dissipation.
In the winter, the rabbit does the opposite and folds its ears in order to decrease its surface area to the ambient air which would decrease their body temperature.
The jackrabbit has the largest ears within the Oryctolagus cuniculus group. Their large pinna were evolved to maintain homeostasis while in the extreme temperatures of the desert.
The rabbit's nasal cavity lies dorsal to the oral cavity, and the two compartments are separated by the hard and soft palate. From there, the air moves into the nasal cavity, also known as the nasopharynx, down through the trachea, through the larynx, and into the lungs.
The trachea then splits into a left and right bronchus, which meet the lungs at a structure called the hilum.
From there, the bronchi split into progressively more narrow and numerous branches. The bronchi branch into bronchioles, into respiratory bronchioles, and ultimately terminate at the alveolar ducts.
The branching that is typically found in rabbit lungs is a clear example of monopodial branching, in which smaller branches divide out laterally from a larger central branch.
Rabbits breathe primarily through their noses due to the fact that the epiglottis is fixed to the backmost portion of the soft palate.
Further, the presence of a soft and hard palate allow the rabbit to breathe through its nose while it feeds. Rabbits lungs are divided into four lobes: the cranial, middle, caudal, and accessory lobes.
The right lung is made up of all four lobes, while the left lung only has two: the cranial and caudal lobes. Rabbits are herbivores that feed by grazing on grass , forbs , and leafy weeds.
In consequence, their diet contains large amounts of cellulose , which is hard to digest. Rabbits solve this problem via a form of hindgut fermentation.
They pass two distinct types of feces: hard droppings and soft black viscous pellets, the latter of which are known as caecotrophs or "night droppings"  and are immediately eaten a behaviour known as coprophagy.
Rabbits reingest their own droppings rather than chewing the cud as do cows and numerous other herbivores to digest their food further and extract sufficient nutrients.
Rabbits graze heavily and rapidly for roughly the first half-hour of a grazing period usually in the late afternoon , followed by about half an hour of more selective feeding.
Hard pellets are made up of hay-like fragments of plant cuticle and stalk, being the final waste product after redigestion of soft pellets. These are only released outside the burrow and are not reingested.
Soft pellets are usually produced several hours after grazing, after the hard pellets have all been excreted. Rabbits are hindgut digesters.
This means that most of their digestion takes place in their large intestine and cecum. Cecotropes, sometimes called "night feces", are high in minerals , vitamins and proteins that are necessary to the rabbit's health.
Rabbits eat these to meet their nutritional requirements; the mucous coating allows the nutrients to pass through the acidic stomach for digestion in the intestines.
This process allows rabbits to extract the necessary nutrients from their food. The chewed plant material collects in the large cecum, a secondary chamber between the large and small intestine containing large quantities of symbiotic bacteria that help with the digestion of cellulose and also produce certain B vitamins.
The soft feces form here and contain up to five times the vitamins of hard feces. After being excreted, they are eaten whole by the rabbit and redigested in a special part of the stomach.
The pellets remain intact for up to six hours in the stomach; the bacteria within continue to digest the plant carbohydrates.
This double-digestion process enables rabbits to use nutrients that they may have missed during the first passage through the gut, as well as the nutrients formed by the microbial activity and thus ensures that maximum nutrition is derived from the food they eat.
Rabbits are incapable of vomiting. The adult male reproductive system forms the same as most mammals with the seminiferous tubular compartment containing the Sertoli cells and an adluminal compartment that contains the Leydig cells.
The Sertoli cells triggers the production of Anti-Müllerian duct hormone , which absorbs the Müllerian duct. In an adult male rabbit, the sheath of the penis is cylinder-like and can be extruded as early as two months of age.
Between 10 and 14 weeks, the testes descend and are able to retract into the pelvic cavity in order to thermoregulate.
These compounds includes fructose , citric acid , minerals , and a uniquely high amount of catalase. The adult female reproductive tract is bipartite , which prevents an embryo from translocating between uteri.
Along with being bipartite, the female rabbit does not go through an estrus cycle , which causes mating induced ovulation. The average female rabbit becomes sexually mature at 3 to 8 months of age and can conceive at any time of the year for the duration of her life.
However, egg and sperm production can begin to decline after three years. The encounter lasts only 20—40 seconds and after, the male will throw himself backwards off the female.
The rabbit gestation period is short and ranges from 28 to 36 days with an average period of 31 days. A longer gestation period will generally yield a smaller litter while shorter gestation periods will give birth to a larger litter.
The size of a single litter can range from four to 12 kits allowing a female to deliver up to 60 new kits a year.
After birth, the female can become pregnant again as early as the next day. The mortality rates of embryos are high in rabbits and can be due to infection, trauma, poor nutrition and environmental stress so a high fertility rate is necessary to counter this.
Rabbits may appear to be crepuscular , but their natural inclination is toward nocturnal activity. In addition to being at risk of disease from common pathogens such as Bordetella bronchiseptica and Escherichia coli , rabbits can contract the virulent, species-specific viruses RHD "rabbit hemorrhagic disease", a form of calicivirus  or myxomatosis.
Among the parasites that infect rabbits are tapeworms such as Taenia serialis , external parasites including fleas and mites , coccidia species, and Toxoplasma gondii.
Encephalitozoon cuniculi , an obligate intracellular parasite is also capable of infecting many mammals including rabbits.
Rabbits are prey animals and are therefore constantly aware of their surroundings. For instance, in Mediterranean Europe, rabbits are the main prey of red foxes, badgers, and Iberian lynxes.
Rabbits have a remarkably wide field of vision, and a good deal of it is devoted to overhead scanning. Their strong teeth allow them to eat and to bite in order to escape a struggle.
Rabbit habitats include meadows , woods , forests , grasslands , deserts and wetlands. A group of burrows is called a warren.
More than half the world's rabbit population resides in North America. They are not naturally found in most of Eurasia , where a number of species of hares are present.
Much of the continent has just one species of rabbit, the tapeti , while most of South America's southern cone is without rabbits.
The European rabbit has been introduced to many places around the world. Rabbits have been a source of environmental problems when introduced into the wild by humans.
As a result of their appetites, and the rate at which they breed, feral rabbit depredation can be problematic for agriculture. Gassing , barriers fences , shooting, snaring, and ferreting have been used to control rabbit populations, but the most effective measures are diseases such as myxomatosis myxo or mixi , colloquially and calicivirus.
In Europe, where rabbits are farmed on a large scale, they are protected against myxomatosis and calicivirus with a genetically modified virus.
The virus was developed in Spain, and is beneficial to rabbit farmers. If it were to make its way into wild populations in areas such as Australia, it could create a population boom, as those diseases are the most serious threats to rabbit survival.
Rabbits in Australia and New Zealand are considered to be such a pest that land owners are legally obliged to control them. In some areas, wild rabbits and hares are hunted for their meat, a lean source of high quality protein.
A caught rabbit may be dispatched with a sharp blow to the back of its head, a practice from which the term rabbit punch is derived.
Wild leporids comprise a small portion of global rabbit-meat consumption. Domesticated descendants of the European rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus that are bred and kept as livestock a practice called cuniculture account for the estimated million tons of rabbit meat produced annually.
The figure for the United States was 0. In the United Kingdom, fresh rabbit is sold in butcher shops and markets, and some supermarkets sell frozen rabbit meat.
At farmers markets there, including the famous Borough Market in London, rabbit carcasses are sometimes displayed hanging, unbutchered in the traditional style , next to braces of pheasant or other small game.
Rabbit meat is a feature of Moroccan cuisine, where it is cooked in a tajine with "raisins and grilled almonds added a few minutes before serving".
An extremely rare infection associated with rabbits-as-food is tularemia also known as rabbit fever , which may be contracted from an infected rabbit.
In addition to their meat, rabbits are used for their wool , fur , and pelts , as well as their nitrogen-rich manure and their high-protein milk.
Rabbits are often used as a symbol of fertility or rebirth, and have long been associated with spring and Easter as the Easter Bunny.
The species' role as a prey animal with few defenses evokes vulnerability and innocence, and in folklore and modern children's stories, rabbits often appear as sympathetic characters, able to connect easily with youth of all kinds for example, the Velveteen Rabbit , or Thumper in Bambi.
With its reputation as a prolific breeder, the rabbit juxtaposes sexuality with innocence, as in the Playboy Bunny.
The rabbit as a swift prey animal is also known for its speed, agility, and endurance, symbolized for example by the marketing icons the Energizer Bunny and the Duracell Bunny.
The rabbit often appears in folklore as the trickster archetype , as he uses his cunning to outwit his enemies. The rabbit as trickster is a part of American popular culture, as Br'er Rabbit from African-American folktales and, later, Disney animation and Bugs Bunny the cartoon character from Warner Bros.
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