baby rabbit
Photo by Richard Peterson / Shutterstock

The most prolific breeders in Canadian wildlife

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A quick history lesson: the modern holiday of Easter is believed to be rooted in a festival honouring Eostre, a Teutonic goddess of spring and, ahem, fertility. Bunnies and eggs are leftover symbols of birth and fecundity that have made their way into our modern celebrations. And while we fully acknowledge rabbits’ rightful place as a symbol of birth, there are plenty of other animals in Canada that could be contenders, too.

Rabbit: 360 babies over a lifetime

There’s a reason the phrase is “breed like rabbits.” Rabbit species across the globe are prolific reproducers, with North America’s most common rabbit, the Eastern cottontail, producing up to 50 young per breeding season. But while rabbits have many, many young over the course of their lives, they’re spared one of the downsides of pregnancy: they are physically unable to vomit. (Not sure what kind of rabbit you’re looking at? Check out our handy identification guide.)

Virginia opossum: 108 babies over a lifetime

Once a symbol of the Deep South, opossums have slowly made their way north, becoming common sights in southern Ontario. And they’re probably here to stay—a mother opossum can have one to three litters per year, with an average litter of eight or nine joeys. The little opossums live in their mother’s pouch for almost three months, then climb on her back to enjoy a free ride for another few months. In fact, a female opossum may have up to 20 or 30 young, but with only 13 teats, many will not survive long after birth.

Lemming: 190 babies over a lifetime

Folklore notwithstanding, lemmings don’t actually leap to their deaths in mass numbers. Populations of lemmings experience periodic die-offs as their numbers reach peak densities every three to five years, and groups will migrate in search of food (often drowning along the way). Part of the reason for lemmings’ drastic population fluctuations is their incredible fertility: they can get pregnant at two weeks old, and give birth to up to eight babies every five weeks. Just as well—lemmings are a key food source for Arctic predators like fox, snowy owls, and ermine.

Deer mouse: 80 babies over a lifetime

Deer mice can have up to nine young per litter, although three to four is more typical. In captivity, a deer mouse can have up to 14 litters per year—meaning the potential for 126 young per year, or 504 young over the course of a four-year lifetime. That being said, mice in the wild aren’t quite so busy, and many live less than a year, so don’t expect to be overrun with little squeakers quite yet.

Cabbage aphid: 15 generations produced in one crop season

It’s a little unfair to include insects (or fish, or molluscs, for that matter) in our list, since their ability to lay eggs or otherwise reproduce generally tends to number in the millions—but the cabbage aphid is so prolific we had to include it. In temperate climates, females produce both males and females, which breed and produce eggs—up to 15 generations in a single crop season. In ideal conditions, aphids could spawn enough descendents to cover the earth in a 149-km deep layer of bugs. Yuck.

And with that lovely image, happy Easter!

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