Nestled on two Pacific Islands, the Amami rabbit quietly makes its life away from most of the world. Although they once lived in mainland Japan, they’ve been driven almost to extinction. They now solely exist on Amami Ōshima and Tokunoshima, two small islands in the Ryukyu Archipelago south of Japan. These fascinating creatures have several more unique traits, including their unusual body shape and symbiotic relationship with a parasitic plant.
|Weight:||4.4 to 6.6 pounds|
|Suitable for:||The wild|
Although we’ll probably never see one in person and can definitely never have one as a pet (it’s illegal considering that they’re a wild endangered species), we can piece together the remaining traces of information and pictures to give us more of a clue about this exotic rabbit’s lifestyle.
Temperament & Intelligence of the Amami Rabbit
The Amami rabbit’s dark brown fur, short ears, and almost non-existent tail gives them an appearance more similar to a rodent than your typical rabbit. Their ancestors are unknown. Unlike most rabbits, Amami rabbits communicate through clicking noises. Their long feet are used to dig burrows.
The Amami rabbit lives a nocturnal lifestyle, which is also not super common among rabbits. Most rabbits are typically crepuscular, which means that they are most active during the twilight hours on both ends of the day, and are more likely to sleep in the middle of the day and night. Cats are also crepuscular creatures, too, which explains why they may like to knock things over and wake you up just before your morning alarm rings.
Can These Rabbits Be Kept As Pets? 👪
It’s illegal to keep most wild animals as pets. The Amami rabbit is certainly no exception. Given their endangered status, it’s extremely forbidden to capture one on anything except film, which means that keeping them as a pet is out of the question.
The Amami rabbit was once hunted, but it has held protective status for the last century. Alas, the measure may haven’t been soon enough. To date, there are only an estimated 5,000 Amami rabbits left.
Does This Rabbit Get Along With Other Animals?
Since very little is known about this rabbit, it’s unclear as to how well they get along with other animals. However, with most rabbits being prey species, it’s reasonable to believe that is the case with the Amami rabbit as well. That means that they are very vulnerable in the wild and tend to prefer to stay hidden to avoid predators such as the mongoose and other feral animals. This could be another reason why these animals are hard to spot and a reason as to why they are likely nocturnal.
Although getting along with other animals is probably unlikely, the Amami rabbit has a special relationship with another type of organism. While it’s normal for wild rabbits to distribute common seeds such as blackberries through their feces, the Amami rabbit scatters seeds for an unlikely ally.
The Balanophora plant is a parasitic plant that lacks the ability to photosynthesize. This unusual plant convinces its host to grow into its tissues and then zaps its nutrients. Over 70 different plant species have been known to fall victim to the Balanophora. Its tall, flowering cones bear seeds that are apparently attractive to the Amami rabbit, too, who eagerly eats them and expels them in poop. Scientists have discovered that the seeds are still viable, which enables the plant to spread far and wide via the Amami rabbit without harming the rabbit.
Things to Know About the Amami Rabbit:
Being a rare and endangered species, little is known about the Amami rabbit. However, here is what scientists have discovered so far.
Food & Diet 🥕
Like most wild rabbits, the omnivorous Amami feasts off of seeds, berries, and acorns. Since they’re Japanese island forest dwellers, the Amami also like to snack on indigenous plants such as bamboo.
Imagine a forest swamp in the southern Japanese islands. Trees twist overhead, shading rivers underneath a canopy of lush green mountains. Rare species such as the Amami rabbit tunnel in the undergrowth of undisturbed plants. This is the type of environment you’d find if you visited Amami Ōshima and Tokunoshima. The Amami Oshima is actually part of a group of islands that together make up Amami Gunto National Park.
The Amami rabbit has been considered an endangered species since 2004. However, they’ve held a protective status from the Japanese government since 1921, which indicates that the population threat has existed for well over 100 years. Hunting originally eradicated the Amami rabbit from inland Asia. Today, it’s illegal to hunt or own the Amami rabbit, but it still faces danger from mongooses, snakes, and feral cats and dogs.
Very little is known about the mating rituals of the Amami rabbit. They reproduce twice a year in the fall and spring, and their litter sizes are relatively small. The Amami rabbit usually only has 2–3 baby bunnies at a time, which may explain why it’s been difficult for their numbers to bounce back despite governmental protection.
Male vs Female
As if the Amami wasn’t unusual enough, the differences between the sexes are opposite of what you’d typically find in the animal kingdom. Females are usually a little bigger and heavier than the males.
3 Little-Known Facts About Amami Rabbit
1. They’re called Living Fossils.
Since the Amami rabbit once lived in mainland Asia, many consider them to be relics of the past. Hopefully, they will continue into the future since they’ve held endangered species protections for the last 20 years.
2. Amami rabbits haven’t evolved much.
Scientists consider this species to be an example of how the prehistoric rabbit looked. Their undisturbed habitat hasn’t changed much, either, which partially explains why they didn’t have to evolve like most wild rabbits.
3. Pampas grass is one of their favorite snacks.
Although not native to Japan, pampas grass grows readily on the islands. It’s easy for the rabbits to digest and seems to be their snack of choice.
Between their unique appearance and extremely limited habitat, the Amami rabbit certainly isn’t a species you’ll see every day—or likely ever, unless you’re planning a trip to the southern Japanese islands. If you are, be sure to schedule a nighttime tour to catch these nocturnal creatures in action. It’s been illegal to hunt or keep this rabbit as a pet for over 100 years, but it’s interesting to watch them from a safe distance. Since the islands have been mostly undisturbed, these rabbits aren’t accustomed to people and are usually extremely shy.
Featured Image Credit: Khun Ta, Shutterstock