Why aren't rabbits green?

Arlin Stoltzfus arlin at is.dal.ca
Thu Oct 17 20:04:24 EST 1996

Martin Holmes wrote:
> Here's a question this group may be able to answer:
> Given the fact that rabbits are rather defenceless prey animals that
> spend almost all of their life outside the warren eating against a
> green background, why haven't they evolved to be green? And why has no
> other similar mammal evolved green skin or fur, while many insects
> have?
> Does anyone have any suggestions?


This is a perfectly legitimate question.  Don't let the snarlers
scare you off from trying to get an answer (its also legitimate
to ask why rabbits aren't armor-plated-- after all, some animals
are, like turtles and armadillos).  

Also, the suggestion that green-ness is prohibited by the fact
that rabbits have to survive through the winter is a poor
response to your question.  Mammals can change their fur color.
Here in Nova Scotia, we have hares (not rabbits) and they change
from brown to white every year.

My suggestion is to actually go and look where rabbits live and
eat.  I'm thinking that the forest floor is not usually green,
unless its covered with moss.  Rabbits are mostly nibbling in
the shadows, not in the middle of a grassy lawn.  

Another suggestion would be to look in a mammal encyclopedia to
see if there are any green mammals.  I know there is such a 
thing as a "Green Monkey", but I don't know whether the Green
Monkey is actually green in color.  If you could find a green
mammal somewhere, this would at least demonstrate that there
is a biochemical pathway by which mammals can produce green-
pigmented hair.  

Arlin Stoltzfus
Department of Biochemistry
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4H7 CANADA
(email) arlin at is.dal.ca 
(phone) 902-494-3569 
(fax) 902-494-1355

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