Visual signals are do not make up the main communication system for rabbits. This is not a surprise as we know that rabbits spend most of their time in the dark. So how do rabbits communicate? There are variations that we can look out for to tell how rabbits are feeling. The variations can be different placement of the ears showing submission, fear, aggressive intent, contentment and being relaxed.
Usually, when a rabbit is feeling relaxed, it will lie either on its side or on its abdomen with its hind limbs stretched out behind. Either that or it will squat down with its legs tucked beneath and eats folded against its head. These are very obvious signs that show that your rabbit is feeling relaxed at that moment.
When a rabbit is feeling submissive, it will usually crouch down. This will then cause it to look smaller and less threatening. Generally in the animal world, making the body appear smaller means that it is submissive. Often this happens along with no eye contact with the dominant animal. This sign is more obvious and clearly seen in dogs which tuck up their body, lower it and their head and look away from the more dominant dog or a person.
Whenever a rabbit is afraid of something or is scared, they show a very similar posture to a submissive animal. However, the main difference is that when rabbits are frightened, their facial muscles will become taut. This gives a look on the rabbit’s face that its eyes are about to pop out of its head. The body will be pressed into the ground and ears flattened tightly against its head. When a rabbit takes on this posture, they try to appear as inconspicuous as possible while keeping a close eye and nose on the source of it’s fear.
Rabbits shake their heads to show irritation or dislike of the strange introduction to smell or taste for example. This action sometimes is followed up by one of the most familiar visual communication we know. They dramatically thump their back legs on the ground. It is both a visual and auditory sign of potential danger. A rabbit who is really concerned about such a possibility of danger will then retreat at high speed towards its burrow. It also raises its hindquarters as it runs and thus showing the white underside of its tail. This white colored fur is visible to other rabbits even in low light levels. This signal is strong indication for all other rabbits to seek shelter and safety of the burrow immediately.