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What About Those Bunnies? Rabbit or Hare?

Updated on March 6, 2013

Rabbits and hares?

Rabbits and hares both fall into a group of animals called lagomorphs.

Both species are known for their long ears and powerful hind legs. They also breed at an insane rate, often producing four to eight litters of three to eight young each a year.

Both are grazing or browsing animals that mostly eat green vegetation. Like ruminants, lagomorphs digest their food twice. Unlike ruminants, however, they do not vomit up cud, but rather engage in coprophagy - eating their own dung. Rabbits, thus, produce two kinds of dung, one kind which they eat to pass it through their digestive system again. This allows them to digest heavy cellulose.

What a lot of people get confused on is the difference between rabbits and hares.

Distinctive Features of Rabbits

1. Rabbits are generally smaller than hares (although snowshoe hares are fairly small and look more like rabbits).

2. Rabbit young, like rodent young, are born very "unfinished." They have no fur and their eyes are closed. Correctly, rabbit young are called "kittens," but it is not uncommon for people to call them "bunnies."

3. If you eat rabbit, it tastes almost like chicken...almost. Rabbit makes good stew meat, especially if you include the organs which, as in birds, are referred to as 'giblets'.

4. Rabbits have been domesticated both as meat animals and pets for a long time. They come in both meat breeds and pet breeds. The largest meat rabbits can weigh fifty pounds.

5. Rabbits generally have fur the same color the year around. No species of rabbit turns white in winter.

6. Rabbits, except for the cottontail, live in burrows or tunnels in the ground, which are called "warrens."

7. Rabbits eat grass and vegetables.

8. Rabbits are social animals who generally live in colonies and have a hierarchy. The dominant male mates with most of the females. This social nature is why rabbits make good pets when hares do not.

Distinctive Features of Hares

1. Hares are larger than rabbits.

2. Baby hares are born with their fur on, their eyes open and are able to feed for themselves within a very short time after birth. They are called "leverets."

3. Hare meat has a stronger and gamier flavor, closer to venison than chicken.

4. No species of hare has been domesticated, although they are often hunted as game.

5. Some species of hare turn lighter or even white in winter. Hares also have black marks on their fur, which are not seen on wild rabbits.

6. Hares do not burrow or live in warrens, they live entirely in the open among plants. Whilst a rabbit will go to ground if threatened, hares will run. Hares are among the fastest smaller mammals.

7. Hares eat twigs, buds, shoots and bark. They tend to go for tougher food than rabbits.

8. Hares are solitary animals who come together only for mating and who throw their young out of the nest as soon as they are weaned.

Points of Confusion

A couple of things make distinguishing rabbits from hares more complicated.

1. The jackrabbit, a fixture of parts of the American west and a common game animal is, in fact, a hare.

2. Cottontails are rabbits, but they don't live in warrens - they live in the open and are solitary, just like hares.

3. The snowshoe hare, although it changes its coat and is larger, is sometimes called the snowshoe rabbit, but it is considered by scientists to be a hare.


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    • jenniferrpovey profile image

      jenniferrpovey 5 years ago

      They're both lagomorphs (the group also contain pikas) and are similar, but they are definitely not the same.

    • profile image

      Jack Wolf 5 years ago

      Interesting, I thought both were the same.