How the rabbits were coloured which were turned out of these islets is not known.
The rabbits which have become feral on the island of Porto Santo, near Madeira, deserve a fuller account. In 1418 or 1419, J. Gonzales Zarco (4/23. Kerr 'Collection of Voyages' volume 2 page 177: page 205 for Cada Mosto. According to a work published in Lisbon in 1717 entitled 'Historia Insulana' written by a Jesuit, the rabbits were turned out in 1420. Some authors believe that the island was discovered in 1413.) happened to have a female rabbit on board which had produced young during the voyage, and he turned them all out on the island. These animals soon increased so rapidly, that they became a nuisance, and actually caused the abandonment of the settlement. Thirty-seven years subsequently, Cada Mosto describes them as innumerable; nor is this surprising, as the island was not inhabited by any beast of prey or by any terrestrial mammal. We do not know the character of the mother-rabbit; but it was probably the common domesticated kind. The Spanish peninsula, whence Zarco sailed, is known to have abounded with the common wild species at the most remote historical period; and as these rabbits were taken on board for food, it is improbable that they should have been of any peculiar breed. That the breed was well domesticated is shown by the doe having littered during the voyage. Mr. Wollaston, at my request, brought home two of these feral rabbits in spirits of wine; and, subsequently, Mr. W. Haywood sent to me three more specimens in brine, and two alive. These seven specimens, though caught at different periods, closely resembled each other. They were full grown, as shown by the state of their bones. Although the conditions of life in Porto Santo are evidently highly favourable to rabbits, as proved by their extraordinarily rapid increase, yet they differ conspicuously in their small size from the wild English rabbit. Four English rabbits, measured from the incisors to the anus, varied between 17 and 17 3/4 inches in length; whilst two of the Porto Santo rabbits were only 14 1/2 and 15 inches in length. But the decrease in size is best shown by weight; four wild English rabbits averaged 3 pounds 5 ounces, whilst one of the Porto Santo rabbits, which had lived for four years in the Zoological Gardens, but had become thin, weighed only 1 pound 9 ounces. A fairer test is afforded by the comparison of the well-cleaned limb-bones of a Porto Santo rabbit killed on the island with the same bones of a wild English rabbit of average size, and they differed in the proportion of rather less than five to nine. So that the Porto Santo rabbits have decreased nearly three inches in length, and almost half in weight of body. (4/24. Something of the same kind has occurred on the island of Lipari, where, according to Spallanzani ('Voyage dans les deux Siciles' quoted by Godron 'De l'Espece' page 364), a countryman turned out some rabbits which multiplied prodigiously, but, says Spallanzani, "les lapins de l'ile de Lipari sont plus petits que ceux qu'on eleve en domesticite.") The head has not decreased in length proportionally with the body; and the capacity of the brain case is, as we shall hereafter see, singularly variable. I prepared four skulls, and these resembled each other more closely than do generally the skulls of wild English rabbits; but the only difference in structure which they presented was that the supra-orbital processes of the frontal bones were narrower.
In colour the Porto Santo rabbit differs considerably from the common rabbit; the upper surface is redder, and is rarely interspersed with any black or black-tipped hairs. The throat and certain parts of the under surface, instead of being pure white, are generally pale grey or leaden colour. But the most remarkable difference is in the ears and tail; I have examined many fresh English rabbits, and the large collection of skins in the British Museum from various countries, and all have the upper surface of the tail and the tips of the ears clothed with blackish-grey fur; and this is given in most works as one of the specific characters of the rabbit.