Milkweed control by food imprinted rabbits

Behav Processes. 2016 Sep;130:75-80. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2016.07.012. Epub 2016 Jul 21.


Many species of invasive plants are spreading out rapidly in Europe. The common milkweed occupies increasingly more area. Being poisonous, most animals will not graze on it however rabbits would be an effective organism for the biological control of milkweed. Rabbit kittens can learn the maternal diet in various ways. They prefer aromatic foods which their mother had eaten during pregnancy or lactation period, -even if it is poisonous- but they can also learn the maternal diet from the fecal pellets deposited by the mother into the nest during the nursing events. The present study was aimed to investigate if rabbit kittens can learn that the common milkweed is a potential food also. In the first 10days of their lives kits got fecal pellets originating from individuals having fed on common milkweed previously. When weaned on day 28 postpartum, these pups preferred the milkweed in the 3-way food choice test, opposite to the control group. Most surprisingly in a second experiment it was also shown that the common milkweed was also preferred by the kittens if their mother ate it not during, but one month before pregnancy.

Keywords: Biological control; Common milkweed; Nursing; Preference; Rabbit.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asclepias*
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Feeding Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Food Preferences / psychology*
  • Imprinting, Psychological*
  • Introduced Species*
  • Male
  • Pest Control, Biological / methods*
  • Rabbits*