Seeing a lionhead rabbit for the first time will stop you in your tracks. You won’t quite know what the tiny fuzz ball is until you get close enough to recognize little rabbit ears poking out from a fluffy mane of wool. Lionheads are distinguished by this mane, which results from the expression of a unique “mane gene” that arose through genetic mutation.
Lionhead rabbits are small and fluffy, weighing about 3 pounds at full size. They have compact bodies and erect, balanced ears that measure about 3 inches long. In addition to their manes, lionheads have longish fur on their chests and soft, glossy fur elsewhere. Some lionheads also have long wool “skirts” around their rumps. Lionheads come in a variety of colors, including gray, white, black, brown, and bluish slate.
Lionhead rabbits are known to have originated in Europe in the late 20th century. Exactly where and in what litter, though, remains unclear. It’s also not clear which breeds were crossed to produce the first litter of lionhead rabbits. In any event, the breed was imported into England in the mid-1990s, where continued crossbreeding established the current European version of the lionhead rabbit.
The first lionhead rabbits imported into the United States arrived in 2000 in Minnesota. In the following years, more lionheads were imported into other parts of the country. This stock, along with hybridizations made throughout the United States, resulted in the current American version of the lionhead rabbit.
Lionhead rabbits are raised mainly as companion animals, although they also are becoming an increasingly popular breed to show. Lionheads were officially recognized as the 48th breed of the American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) in early 2014.
The lionhead rabbit population in the United States is small but growing. The breed is considered stable.
Lionhead rabbits are well-loved Ambassadors in the Zoo’s Animal Embassy program. These sweet and adorable rabbits captivate school children, Zoo visitors, and other audiences, and definitely inspire curiosity! Educators are able to point out adaptive similarities between this domestic breed and wild rabbits, and engage audiences in conversation about wild rabbits, their habitat needs, and their contributions to a healthy ecosystem.