Rabbits, Bunnies and Hares all sound similar but, did you know that even though we use the word Rabbit and Bunny for the same animal? Hares on the other hand are are a distant wild cousin. They may share some physical aspects but their habitat, diet and behaviors is completely different.
Since these animals live quite close to us humans and often look alike at first glance, understanding the key differences can help us identify them.
In this article we will explore the various differences between rabbit vs bunny vs hare and give you a detailed comparison into all aspects of these animals as well as finding out what makes them unique.
Rabbit and Bunny are are two name for the same animal, domestic rabbits. Rabbits were first domesticated somewhere around 600 A.D. by French monks who called them Conils.
That name was later morphed into Coney and during the 18th century the word further evolved into Bunny popularized by the Easter Bunny..
The famous amusement park, ‘Coney Island’ in New York city also gets its name from the same word meaning ‘Rabbit Island’.
These days rather than coney, we prefer to call rabbits bunny but their actual Formal name is Rabbit or Rabbits for plural.
Its is speculated that the name bunny was derived from Bun which could be a reference to a rabbit’s tail or the Bread Loaf shape in which the rest.
Now there is a big distinction to make here. Not all rabbits are wild rabbits and not all wild rabbits are hares. All of these animals belong in to the same family Laporidae in the order Lagomorpha.
They represent a family of rabbit like animals like Wild Rabbits, Hares and Pikas.
Within the family Laporidae, hares and rabbits. Most hares belong to genus Lepus while there are 20 or so species of wild rabbits.
Pet rabbits especially the ones we find in North America and Europe is a species of European rabbit O.Cuniculas.
They were domesticated and bred into many different breeds that we find today. Even though rabbit breeds look quite different they are all domestic rabbits most likely originating from some species of European wild rabbits.
Wild rabbits like Cottontails and Pygmey Rabbits look almost like some domestic rabbit breeds but they are wild and cannot survive being kept as pets. Some of the most common species of wild rabbits are..
Cotton Tails Rabbits – Perhaps the most common kind of wild rabbits that we find around the US. They come in many different varieties like Desert Cottontail, Eastern Cottontail, New England Cottontail, the Brush Rabbit, and Swamp Rabbit and often share their habitat with us humans and even nesting in our backyards during winter.
Pygmey Rabbits – These rabbits are native to the north west United States, smaller in size to cottontail rabbits, they are endangered due to widespread destruction of their natural habitat by farming activities.
Wild European Rabbits – One of the most common breed of wild rabbits in the world, European rabbits can be found in the Americas, Asia, Africa and Even Australia. Since they are an invasive species in most of places except for Eurpoe, they have led to the destruction of biodiversity especially in places like Australia where there are very few predators to keep wild rabbit populations in check.
The third member of the Laporidae family, Pika or Pikas closely resemble rabbits but are much smaller. They prefer to live in rocky mountainous areas of North America as well as some parts of Asia.
They have smaller more rounded ears when compared to rabbits and have a distinctive call which is a key differentiating factor as rabbits are non-vocal animals.
There are more than 30+ living species of Pikas all around the world but most of them live farm away from human society so encounters with pikas in sub-urban or rural environments is quite rare compared to wild rabbits.
Hares are a type of wild rabbit that are are quite similar to in form and behavior to domestic rabbits but have not been domesticated yet. They are found naturally all around the world except for Australia and Antarctica.
Even though they are very similar to other rabbits, they belong to a different species just like goats and sheep are different.
Hares are expert runners, they run fast, sometimes upto 37 body lengths in a second. In quick bursts they can outrun a Cheetah.
Most hare belong to genus Lepus, some common species of hares around the world are Snowshoe Hares, Arctic Hare, Alaskan Hare, African Hare and Cape Hare.
Technically all jackrabbits like Black Tailed Jackrabbit, White Tailed Jackrabbit and Antelope Jackrabbits are also hares, they also belong to the same genus.
There are many differences between domestic rabbits and wild hares. Although they share a genus or family tree, they represent two completely different species.
Not only are there differences in their physical attributes, habitat and diet, they are different enough that they cannot mate to produce a rabbit hare hybrid like Mules which are hybrids of Horses and Donkeys.
Hares are typically larger than most rabbit breeds except for Giant Rabbits. An adult Arctic hare can be as long as 70cm long and weigh around 4-7kgs. An adult rabbit from an average sized breed, European rabbit weighs just around 1 to 2.5kgs only.
They also have longer and thinner legs which are more suited to running really fast instead of digging burrows.
Hares also generally have much longer ears which help them keep alert of predators so that they can quickly scurry off.
Anatomically hares also have a distinct bone structure when compared rabbits. This is due to the fact that they need to absorb much more shock especially in their skull while running at high speeds.
Rabbits have much more flexible bones which help with navigating in the tight spaces of their burrows.
Rabbits live in large and complex underground burrows with multiple openings and multi layered tunnels.
Whereas, Hares live on the surface nesting in bushes or digging a shallow hole in the ground.
Hares strictly prefer being able to run away from danger but rabbits prefer hiding away from danger. This is a major difference in the way how both the animals have evolved.
Rabbits are highly social animals often living in large groups consisting of many adults and their babies. A rabbit colony may have upto 3 Adult males, called Bucks and upto 5 Adult females called Does and their babies called kits.
Hares on the other hand prefer to live a solitary life only come together to mate and raise their young. This is a stark difference in how each of them have evolved.
Rabbits and Hares are both obligate herbivores, that means they can only eat a plant based diet. Both rabbits and hares ear grass, hay, vegetables, berries, fruits, roots and bark.
Rabbits prefer to eat tender and softer items in their environment where as hares go for more hardy foods like roots, scrubs and bark.
Both rabbits and hare need to drink water. An adult sized hare or rabbit can drink 150 ml or more water everyday.
Both rabbits and Hares are prolific breeders, which means they breed a lot. A pair of rabbits and their descendants can produce as much as 1500 babies in just two years and in four years they can produce 4 million babies.
This is an important aspect of both rabbits and hare’s survival since they are prey animals they depend on breeding and producing lots of babies.
Most rabbit species take around 30-32 days to give birth, hares on the other hand take a bit longer at around 40-42 days.
Rabbit babies called kits or bunnies are born blind without fully developed eyes or fur and need to be sheltered and taken care of by their mother for at least a few weeks. A rabbit can give birth to 1-18 rabbits in a single litter.
Hare babies which are also called kits are born fully developed with eyes and fur. They are also able to run and fend for themselves within a few minutes of being born. This is a necessity for them since they are birthed in the open without having any shelter like burrows.
Both rabbits and hares can shed their fur as the season changes. They grow a thicker coat of fur in the winter and shed down to a thinner coat for the warmer month.
Hares on the other hand can have a stark color difference in their coat from summer to winter. They change the color of their coat from brown grey shades to almost completely white during the winter.
Rabbits do not generally show such a contrast of fur color as the seasons change but their fur does lose their color and become greyer during the winter.
Rabbits and hares have been hunted for meat since ancient times. They are both an abundant source of meat in a lot of places around the world.
In fact rabbits were first domesticated around the 18th century to find a suitable source of meat. Many of the rabbit breeds that we keep as pets today like Flemish Giant Rabbits actually were bred a meat rabbits.
Wild hares are being hunted all around the world even today as a sustainable game. Due to their fast breeding, hunting is often recommended to keep wild populations in check.
Their meat is considered a good source of protein with relatively low fat content is quite similar to white meat in chicken.
After listing all these differences between rabbits and hares we’d also like to tell you about all the things they have in common. Here are the similarities between rabbits and hares.
Family – Both rabbits and hares belong to the family Laporidae. All animals in this family eat a plant-based diet, eat their cecotrophes (charecteristic of Lagomorphs) which is a soft stool that helps them absorb much more nutrition from their diet.
Anatomy – Rabbits and hares have very similar sized organs and bones. Most of their physical features are likely to have developed together and shared a common ancestry
Food Chain – Both rabbits and hares share a similar place in the food chain, they are both herbivores and prey animals. Rabbits and hares in the wild are a major food source for many carnivore animals like foxes, wild dogs, wolves etc.
So now you should know the difference between rabbit vs bunny vs hare as well as understanding what makes each of them unique in their place in the animal kingdom.
If you want to learn more about rabbits then check out some of our other articles on the topic.
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