Are Rabbits as Prolific as Everybody Says?

CreativeNature_nl/iStock via Getty Images
CreativeNature_nl/iStock via Getty Images

Pope Francis is in the news for saying Catholics don't have to breed "like rabbits." How prolific are rabbits anyway? Is there any truth to the phrase "breed like rabbits"?

Sort of. When a doe lets a buck know that she's ready to mate, he circles her, shows off his tail, and sometimes urinates on her. This is what passes for foreplay. Then, the act itself lasts about 20-40 seconds.

The real wow factor of rabbit reproduction is how fast they get around to breeding, and how often they can do it. The average rabbit reaches sexual maturity at 3-8 months old, and they have the rest of their 9-to-12+ years to get it on (though egg/sperm production drops off at around 3 years). Their breeding season lasts three-quarters of the year, and the does don't have an estrous or "heat" cycle. They're more or less ready to mate all the time. They don't have a menstrual cycle, either, so there's no special window during which pregnancy can happen. Does are actually induced ovulators, which means that intercourse stimulates ovulation. After 40 seconds of magic, the egg is emitted for fertilization.

Rabbits gestate for only 30 days, and usually have litters of between 4 and 12 babies (kits), depending on the breed. Once the babies are born, the doe can mate and get pregnant again as soon as the following day. If they maintain a pace like that and all the kits survive, the large-litter breeds are looking at about 100 babies per season. Stretch that out over a lifetime, and you've got over 1000 babies per rabbit.

This Big Question originally appeared in 2012.

Why Does Santa Claus Give Coal to Bad Kids?

iStock/bonchan
iStock/bonchan

The tradition of giving misbehaving children lumps of fossil fuel predates the Santa we know, and is also associated with St. Nicholas, Sinterklaas, and Italy’s La Befana. Though there doesn't seem to be one specific legend or history about any of these figures that gives a concrete reason for doling out coal specifically, the common thread between all of them seems to be convenience.

Santa and La Befana both get into people’s homes via the fireplace chimney and leave gifts in stockings hung from the mantel. Sinterklaas’s controversial assistant, Black Pete, also comes down the chimney and places gifts in shoes left out near the fireplace. St. Nick used to come in the window, and then switched to the chimney when they became common in Europe. Like Sinterklaas, his presents are traditionally slipped into shoes sitting by the fire.

So, let’s step into the speculation zone: All of these characters are tied to the fireplace. When filling the stockings or the shoes, the holiday gift givers sometimes run into a kid who doesn’t deserve a present. So to send a message and encourage better behavior next year, they leave something less desirable than the usual toys, money, or candy—and the fireplace would seem to make an easy and obvious source of non-presents. All the individual would need to do is reach down into the fireplace and grab a lump of coal. (While many people think of fireplaces burning wood logs, coal-fired ones were very common during the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is when the American Santa mythos was being established.)

That said, with the exception of Santa, none of these characters limits himself to coal when it comes to bad kids. They’ve also been said to leave bundles of twigs, bags of salt, garlic, and onions, which suggests that they’re less reluctant than Santa to haul their bad kid gifts around all night in addition to the good presents.

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Why Are Poinsettias Associated with Christmas?

iStock
iStock

Certain Christmas traditions never seem to go out of style. Along with wreaths, gingerbread cookies, and reruns of A Christmas Story sits the poinsettia, a red-tinged leafy arrangement that’s become synonymous with the holiday. Upwards of 100 million of them are sold in the six weeks before December 25.

Why do people associate the potted plant with seasonal cheer? Chalk it up to some brilliant marketing.

In 1900, a German immigrant named Albert Ecke was planning to move his family to Fiji. Along the way, they became enamored of the beautiful sights found in Los Angeles—specifically, the wild-growing poinsettia, which was named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the U.S.-Mexican ambassador who first brought it to the States in 1828. Ecke saw the appeal of the plant’s bright red leaves that blossomed in winter (it’s not actually a flower, despite the common assumption) and began marketing it from roadside stands to local growers as "the Christmas plant."

The response was so strong that poinsettias became the Ecke family business, with their crop making up more than 90 percent of all poinsettias sold throughout most of the 20th century: Ecke, his son Paul, and Paul’s son, Paul Jr., offered a unique single-stem arrangement that stood up to shipping, which their competitors couldn’t duplicate. When Paul III took over the business in the 1960s, he began sending arrangements to television networks for use during their holiday specials. In a priceless bit of advertising, stars like Ronald Reagan, Dinah Shore, and Bob Hope were sharing screen time with the plant, leading millions of Americans to associate it with the holiday.

While the Ecke single-stem secret was eventually cracked by other florists—it involved grafting two stems to make one—and their market share dwindled, their innovative marketing ensured that the poinsettia would forever be linked to Christmas.

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