Many pet rabbit owners ask their local pet store for a small or dwarf pet rabbit. Often due to limitations on space or hutch size. They are then offered the usual smaller pet rabbits. These are not the smallest rabbits in the world. Yes, they are small rabbit breeds but not the smallest.
So, what is the smallest rabbit in the world?
The Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits is one of the smallest rabbit species in North America, and perhaps, the smallest rabbit in the world. They typically weigh under a pound, making them less than half the weight of your average cottontail (which weighs in at an average of 2.5 pounds).
These rabbits are endangered, sadly, which means they are not yet available as pets. Efforts are being made on the part of wildlife conservationists (zoos, etc.) to secure their survival. There are a few other small breeds of rabbits that you can legally have for pets, however!
Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit Appearance and Behavior
This rabbit has a distinctive appearance and behavior. If you were to spot one, you would probably know it – and not just because they are the smallest rabbit in the world. Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits also have shorter ears, and shorter legs, compared to your average cottontail.
These rabbits lack your typical breed’s white fuzz, as well. They are brown to dark gray all over. Their fur tends to lighten as the seasons move toward winter.
The Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit is always active, but especially during the twilight hours just before dawn and dusk. This is when these rabbits feel they have the most cover.
The smallest rabbit in the world acts much like your average rabbit does, spending its time grazing, breeding, playing, grooming… and evading the frequent predator.
The Origin of the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit
The smallest rabbit in the world, the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit, originates in the Columbian Basin, in WA. This is an area where the landscape is mostly made up of a series of deep river canyons, plateaus, and ridges – much of it covered in hardy, wind-loving plants like wild grasses and sagebrush.
As a matter of fact, Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits have come to depend on this highly unique habitat for their survival. The hills and slopes between plateaus and riverbeds serve as the perfect spots to burrow.
There are sagebrushes for the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits to feed on – everywhere!
Sadly, their reliance on this special environment and its decimation by wildfires has left the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits breed seriously at risk.
How Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits Spend their Time
Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits eat heaps and heaps of sage – a whole 90% of their diet is made up of this fragrant bush, in fact! This plant provides these rabbits with the fibrous content their bodies are made for.
Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits also supplement the sagebrush with native grasses and forbs, which start to appear in spring and last until the summer-fall.
This is the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit’s most unique behavior. Most rabbits will excavate little caves, but few create complex underground systems like moles do. The Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit is one such.
These labyrinthian burrows have inner chambers for sleep, waste, food storage… all buried far from the reach of nearly any predator.
Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits breed in the warm and balmy months of Feb to July, when food and water are plentiful.
The male and female cooperate to create a separate, special birthing burrow.
Most rabbits breed very frequently, but Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits are in this way unusual. This is partly due to inbreeding since their population is so small. Efforts are still being made to encourage mating in captivity now.
As you can imagine, Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit babies – also known as kits – are smaller than small. The female rabbits, also known as ‘does’, have 2-4 litters a year. There are anywhere between 2-6 kits per litter.
Sadly, Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits are no more immune to hunters than any other sort of rabbit. These are an ever-popular prey animal. Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits are hunted by coyotes, badgers, owls, hawks, weasels, foxes, etc. They are even easier to catch than most rabbits because they are so very small.
Fortunately, they have good instincts, and they are quick to flee into a safe burrow!
Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits are Endangered
Over time, the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit population decreased until they became endangered. This has been due to wildfires and other incursions into their environment, both natural and human-caused.
Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits separated off from the pygmy breed in the general area, sticking to WA. They made themselves at home among the sagebrushes and rock scree.
As sage has burned, and because they reproduce rather slowly, the smallest rabbit in the world has had to fight for survival.
There were only a dozen to 30 Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits left in 2003. Many Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits have been rescued, and efforts made to breed them in captivity, which has been gradually successful. Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits are still considered to be quite endangered, however.
Can You Have a Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit For a Pet?
The Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit is not available as a pet. As an endangered species, this rabbit breed is given only the most optimum conditions – by zoos and other expert facilities – for their survival.
Other Small Bunny Breeds
If you’d like a super small rabbit for a pet, you could consider the tiny 1.1-2.5-pound (as an adult) Netherland Dwarf. There are also Lionhead Rabbits, Britannia Petite Rabbits, Mini Plush Lop rabbits, and a few more.
At 1.1 pounds at their smallest, the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbits are truly tiny. The largest of them are 2.5 pounds in total. The second-smallest rabbit breed is the Netherland Dwarf.