Reputation: Rabbits breed like rabbits. They are pests.

Reality: Rabbits do not always breed like rabbits, especially not in the wild. In its ancestral home on the Iberian peninsula, the European rabbit is threatened with extinction.

When it comes to reproduction, rabbits have something of a reputation. Is it fair? Well, yes and no.

Female rabbits can get pregnant again as soon as they've given birth

It is true that rabbits have a suite of nifty adaptations that allow for prolific reproduction.

The European rabbit becomes sexually active at just three or four months old. Females ovulate in response to copulation, so the time of the month is moot. Gestation lasts less than a month and litter size is typically around five.

Even more impressively, female rabbits can get pregnant again as soon as they've given birth, effectively nurturing two litters simultaneously: one in the nest and one in the womb.

Rabbits can keep up this frenetic reproductive pace for as long as conditions allow. In theory, a female at full procreative tilt could birth scores of baby rabbits a year.

They are not really breeding like rabbits

However, in practice rabbits never achieve anything like this fecundity, not in captivity and especially not in the wild.

Diana Bell is a zoologist at the University of East Anglia and a member of the IUCN's Lagomorph Specialist Group. Since the 1980s, she and her colleagues have been studying a population of European rabbits on the campus grounds.

Taking multiple litters into account, "the annual number of emergent young per doe in our long-term study population has ranged from one to ten," she says. "They are not really breeding like rabbits. They are really not."

There are lots of reasons for this. Reproductive output is strongly affected by day length, temperature and availability of food. This explains why European rabbits perform so differently in different places.

The Iberian population is estimated to have declined by some 95% since 1950

On San Juan Island near Seattle, Washington, the rabbits will breed for just three months and produce three litters a year. However, in Australia and New Zealand they are active all year round and can turn out around seven litters per annum.

Disease is also a serious issue. In its ancestral home in the Iberian peninsula, the European rabbit suffered a dramatic decline after myxomatosis was deliberately introduced in the 1950s, to control populations. They suffered a further blow when rabbit haemorrhagic disease emerged in the 1980s.

With the additional pressures of habitat destruction and hunting, the Iberian population is estimated to have declined by some 95% since 1950. With the populations elsewhere mostly regarded as pests, the species is actually classed as "near threatened".

This is bad for bunnies, but is also likely to have spelt trouble for animals that feed on rabbits. There are plenty of these: at least 45 different vertebrate predators in Iberia alone.

There are also rabbits about which we know virtually nothing

But it is probably no coincidence that the Iberian lynx and the Spanish imperial eagle are amongst the most reliant on rabbits – rabbits and their relatives make up 90% of their diet – and the most critically endangered.

If a species as commonplace as the European rabbit is under threat in its motherland, it is perhaps not surprising that lesser-known rabbits and hares are struggling too.

There are around 60 different species of rabbit and hare, which all belong to a group called the lagomorphs. Several are threatened with extinction, like the daintily eared Amami rabbit from Japan, the dinky volcano rabbit from Mexico and the riverine rabbit from South Africa; "the world's most handsome rabbit," according to Bell.

There are also rabbits about which we know virtually nothing.

In the late 1990s, Robert Timmins of the Wildlife Conservation Society came across the remains of a rabbit on sale in a market in rural Laos. It looked a lot like the vulnerable Sumatran striped rabbit, except it wasn't.

They live in a habitat with about 70 species of snake

Working with Bell and other colleagues, Timmins examined the rabbit's genes and found that it was a distinct species that has been charting its own evolutionary course for some 50 million years.

Early in 2015, Bell's student Sarah Woodfin travelled to the Annamite Mountains that straddle the borders of Laos, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia to find out more about the species. Within a day of arriving in the field, she had a live Annamite striped rabbit in her arms.

There is not yet enough information on this species to figure out whether it's threatened. But life can't be easy. "They live in a habitat with about 70 species of snake," says Bell. "Goodness knows how they survive."