Olfactory preference for own mother and litter in 1-day-old rabbits and its impairment by thermotaxis.Dev Psychobiol. 2008 Sep; 50(6):542-53.DP
We investigated the ability of rabbit pups to display preferences towards various elements of their postnatal environment during the stage of confinement in the nest. Subjects were submitted to a two-choice test during the first week after birth to assess if they could detect and discriminate between does, litters of pups, or nesting materials of the same developmental stage. On D1 and D7, pups were attracted to any lactating doe, litter, or nest when compared to an empty compartment. When two stimuli were opposed, pups preferred their own nest to an alien one on D1 and D7 but not their mother nor their siblings when opposed to alien does or pups. However, additional tests indicated that this lack of preference for kin conspecifics resulted from a predominant attraction to thermal cues over individual odors. Indeed, pups were strongly attracted to a warm compartment (37 degrees C) than to a cooler one (20 degrees C) and once thermal cues were controlled for in the testing situation, the pups were specifically attracted to odors of their own mother's hair and of their siblings. No preference was observed towards the mother's uterine secretions. In conclusion, pups can recognize olfactory cues emanating from their mother and their siblings the day after birth. The preference for nesting materials would reflect in major part the combined attraction to maternal and sibling odors present in the nest.