HARLEQUIN RABBIT - Nikki White (Reguli Cavy & Rabbit Stud)

This checkerboard rabbit comes in a number of colour combinations and is guaranteed to present as much of a challenge if not more than the Dutch to 'get right'. Originally called the Japanese (which they still are in many places) the name was changed when Japan became decidedly uncool during World War 2. However, just as the Himalayan has little to do with Mt Everest, this rabbit can claim no connection with the Land of the Rising Yen as it originated in France.

This is a Fancy rabbit. The BRC Breed Standards call for a longish head wide between the eyes and not coarse, legs medium but not coarse, body muscular, well-proportioned and slightly arched, weighing between 2.54 kg and 3.62 kg, eyes to be brown, blue or hazel. The coat should be very dense and silky (2.54 cm long). The main feature, however, is the pattern. The head should be equally divided, one side black and the other side golden orange with the ear on the black side being golden orange and the ear on the golden orange side being black. One front leg should be golden orange and the other black. One hind leg should be orange and the other black but in reverse to the front. The body should be banded black and orange. This is your basic Black Harlequin (in America they seem to use Harlequin as generic term and further subdivide them into Japanese, the coloureds and Magpies, the ones with white instead of golden orange). However, they come in other colour combinations: Blue Harlequin (lavender blue and golden fawn); Brown Harlequin (rich dark brown and golden orange); Lilac Harlequin (dove grey and golden fawn).

If the rabbit is black and white (it lacks the golden orange component) it is called a Magpie. Black Magpie is dense black and white; Blue Magpie is lavender blue and white; Brown Magpie is rich dark brown and white; Lilac Magpies is dove grey and white.

"Markings are to be of paramount importance to other considerations". Faults include harsh flyback coat, white hairs or excessive brindling.


The Harlequin is rather an old breed, originating in France during the 1880s. It was developed from semi-wild and Tortoiseshell Dutch rabbits kept in large fenced enclosures. Originally it looked like a badly marked Dutch as old photos show. The breed was first exhibited in Paris in 1887. It was imported into England a few years later. It has always been an exhibition breed as the fur with its distinctive pattern had novelty value only. It was briefly used for meat during World War 2.


Called the "clown of the rabbits" or the "Royal Jester" because of its colourful patchwork markings, this is a placid, medium sized rabbit who makes a good pet. Breeding them for show is a bit of a challenge as they have one of the toughest patterns to get right. Black Harlequins and Black Magpies are the most common colours here if common is the right word for such a relatively rare breed. The other colours are not much seen here. The banding is associated with a recessive gene which when associated with Agouti prevents the development of the ticking. It takes a lot of patience and skill to produce well marked specimens but when you do, you have a very striking and lovely rabbit. Harlequins can also occur in the Rex. (There are Harlequin guinea pigs, too, with a similar pattern).


As with the Dutch, it depends what you want the rabbit for. If just for a pet, an exact match with the standards isn't necessary because you can still have a very pretty, recognisably Harlequin even with a few faults.

Breeders Directory


The Harlequin is a medium rabbit so requires a hutch either 110-120 x 50 x 50 or 80 x 80 x 60. Feed is as for other breeds - pellets, mix, fresh fruit and veg, as treats. Don't over feed. Their coats can be brought to a fine sheen by brushing with your hands and/or a piece of silk or satin cloth or mitt. Like all rabbits, they should be brushed with a slicker brush or comb in moult and given plenty of roughage (meadow hay or lucerne) during these times. They are basically an easy care rabbit provided you observe commonsense as outlined above.


Harlequin Rabbit Club (UK) Janet Bee, 79 Boundary Road, Newark, Notts NG24 4AJ, England.

American Harlequin Rabbit Club


British Rabbit Council, Standards of Rabbit Breeds 3rd ed. 2011-2016

Russell, Geoff, Mini Encyclopeda of Rabbit Breeds & Care. Dorking, Interpet Publishing, 2008

Sandford, J. C., The Domestic Rabbit. 5th ed. Oxford, Blackwell Science, 1996

Taylor, David, Rabbit. London, HarperCollins, 1999

Verhoef-Verhallen, Esther, Encyclopaedia of Rabbits and Rodents. Lisse, Rebo Productions, 1998

Vriends-Parent, Lucia, The New Rabbit Handbook. Hauppage, NY, Barrons, 1989

Whitman, Bob D., Domestic Rabbits & Their Histories: Breeds of the World. Leawood, KS : Leathers Publishing, 2004

Williams, A.E. Ted, Rabbit Breeding for Perfection. Melbourne, AE Williams, 1992.

Rabbit Breeds