Blessed with a reputation for being prolific, rabbits will need to rely on good instincts if they wish to survive and continue to "breed like rabbits" as nature intended. Being small, cuddly and cute doesn't spare them from turning into a delicious meal for several predators. Fortunately, rabbits have a few tricks up their sleeves to up their chances for survival.
Coined by Pavlov as the "What is this?" response, the orienting response involves awareness of danger. When the rabbit is feeding or grooming outside the safety of his burrow, he'll instinctively use his senses to detect any abnormal activity. Any unusual sight, smell or sound likely will cause him to twitch his ears, sniff the air and turn his head toward the stimuli. If no danger is detected, the rabbit likely will resume his activity; whereas, if he senses danger ahead, he'll likely react accordingly.
If the predator is at a distance and hasn't spotted the rabbit yet, the rabbit's first choice of defense entails freezing. This lack of movement helps the rabbit blend into his surrounding environment making him difficult to spot. Also, this stillness may help save the rabbit's life since many predators are attracted by movement. Should the predator spot the rabbit though, the rabbit will need to resort to plan B.
A good part of a rabbit's survival in the wild depends on the instinctive ability to flee. When an animal's flight response is activated, several physiological changes take place to up the chances for survival. The rabbit's heart and cardiac output increases, the senses heighten, while blood is sent to the muscles to increase agility and endurance. Whether bunny rabbits will be able to outrun their predators or will be turned into tasteful treats, depends on their overall swiftness and knowledge of the area.
While outrunning a predator may seem like a good way to survive, rabbits may need to rely on their own set of instinctive "hat tricks." This is where a good knowledge of the area comes into play. As the rabbit runs for his life, he'll often make a series of sudden, zigzag turns for the purpose of eluding the predator. Popping into a hiding spot, such as the many surface holes made by prairie dogs and woodchucks, often ends the chase, leaving the poor rabbit breathless, but safe.
When fleeing is not an option, and the rabbit is cornered with no way out, he may decide to confront the predator if feasible. In this case, as a last resort, Thumper may rely instinctively on his powerful legs. A strong kick using one or both of his hind feet may suffice to stun his pursuer enough to give him the chance to make a swift exit.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.