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Animal Spirits & Totems: Rabbits & Hares

Updated on March 8, 2012
Albrecht Durer's famous drawing of a hare
Albrecht Durer's famous drawing of a hare | Source

Facts About Rabbits & Hares

Rabbits and hares are both vegetation-eating mammals belonging to the same order (Lagomorpha) and family (Leporidae), and they look very similar to the untrained eye. But rabbits and hares are very different animals, with different habits, a few different physical features, and different ways of rearing their young.

In general, hares are usually larger than rabbits and have longer ears and legs. Hares live above ground for the most part, depending on their speed to escape predators. Hares are solitary animals. The males do not compete with other hares when they mate; they simply pair off.

Rabbits, on the other hand, live in large groups in underground warrens. They escape predators by diving underground, and they have a complex social order. Male rabbits compete for females when they breed in order to establish their level of dominance in the group. They have shorter but very powerful hind legs.

Rabbits and hares both feed in the early morning and evening, but rabbits prefer soft green plants while hares forage for more hard foods such as bark, fruit rinds, stems, and twigs.

Both rabbits and hares are prolific breeders, producing six to eight litters each season. Baby hares are called ‘leverets’. They are born with fur in above ground nests made of leaves and twigs and are left alone fairly early in life. Leverets provide food for raptors or other birds of prey in many wild habitats, where (if all goes well) the baby birds are born at right about the same time. If the birds of prey reproduce out of sync with the leverets, their offspring usually die.

Rabbits give birth to hairless, blind young underground, where their mothers care for them until they can see and are more developed. Baby rabbits are called ‘kits’ or ‘kittens’, though popularly they are known as ‘bunnies’. Rabbit kits also provide plentiful food for spring predators, which is why so many of them are produced. A female rabbit can actually conceive a second litter before her first litter is even born.

Finally, hares have white bellies and black markings on brown fur. The fur on a hare turns white in the winter. Rabbits come in a wide variety of colors and breeds, some wild, some tame. Wild rabbits have brown fur during warm weather and grey fur during the winter months.

Rabbits can be easily domesticated and raised as pets or for food. Hares are wild and cannot be domesticated. Both hares and rabbits can become pests when they live on farms or in residential areas. During hard winters rabbits will strip saplings of their bark, girding and thus killing the young trees before spring arrives.

A pair of jackrabbits, actually a kind of hare. Note their long back legs and tall ears.
A pair of jackrabbits, actually a kind of hare. Note their long back legs and tall ears.

Rabbit Wisdom, Hare Wisdom

Rabbits are associated with fertility, abundance, and survival through keeping a low profile. An encounter with a rabbit can have many meanings depending on the context. Although rabbits survive by darting into their underground warrens, they are also a major food source for predators, so depending on the circumstances an encounter with a rabbit can herald a period of creative abundance in your life, or warn about an unwise lack of personal protection.

In a similar way, a rabbit encounter can be a warning to ‘lay low’ until some period of danger has passed.

A rabbit’s eyes are positioned on the side of its head for a wider range of vision. A rabbit encounter may advice you to ‘watch your back’.

Hares are wild creatures that make a gamey, stringy meal. An encounter with a hare may be a signal to maintain your quickness of body and mind, or to develop it. A hare connection reminds us to respect our naturally solitary nature and not be too quick to conform.

Hares will thump the ground as a warning, so if you witness at hare doing this, consider yourself warned. Keep your wits about you and be ready to make a hasty exit, not just then and there, but in any area of life that comes to mind.

Rabbits with fairy folk
Rabbits with fairy folk

Personal Encounters with Rabbits and Hares

One of my most memorable animal encounters was with a leveret, or young hare. I was on my way into class at the university where I was studying for a master’s degree. For no apparent reason that I can recall I looked down at the ground and stopped short.

There, just inches from my toes, was a baby hare, its nose twitching rapidly. It was so still that if it weren’t for the nose, I would have thought it was dead. For a moment I wondered if it was sick. I was stunned and had no idea what to do. For a long moment we kind of mirrored each other: the baby hare perfectly still and seemingly stunned, and me very much the same.

Finally, I said something like, “Hi, thank you,” although again, I’m not sure why I said that. I walked around it. Looking over my shoulder I then saw the small leveret take off at great speed and disappear into an adjoining field.

This was at a time in my life when I was feeling quite exposed and in some degree of personal danger. The encounter with the leveret confirmed my unease, telling me to keep my wits about me and be ready to bolt in an instant if necessary.

When I was done writing my thesis and my faculty advisor inexplicably refused to schedule the committee meeting that would result in my diploma, I remembered the leveret and made a quick exit, leaving the program.

The next day the head of the department called me and scheduled my committee meeting, overriding my advisor’s decision. I graduated with honors, but ultimately decided against an academic career, realizing that it was not a good place for me survival-wise.

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    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 5 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, CR Rookwood!

      Love rabbits and hares. Have loved them since boyhood. Thanks for these precious animals and the facts you wrote.

      I shall never kill unless my friends are at starvation. That is the only reason and unless there is no vegetation.

      I know. I am very old fashioned, but I love ME.

      Write soon and please follow me.

    • CR Rookwood profile image
      Author

      Pamela Hutson 3 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Mine too Spiritwood. :)

    • spiritwood profile image

      spiritwood 3 years ago from Wales, UK

      one of my favourite animals!

    • CR Rookwood profile image
      Author

      Pamela Hutson 4 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Thanks Wiccan Sage. I love rabbits, We have so many where we live, it's rabbit heaven here. :)

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 4 years ago

      I'd always wondered about the difference, I wasn't even sure if there was one. What a great hub.

    • CR Rookwood profile image
      Author

      Pamela Hutson 5 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Oh you should write it! You have such an awesome and unique perspective. I love your hubs. We have tons of rabbits on our property, and weirdly, they love to taunt our large Alaskan Malamute dog. They always get away and they seem to come as close as possible just to annoy him, though I'm sure that can't be it. (Or, maybe it is! lol!) So this year there aren't so many as last year. Some years it's like rabbit heaven here. Thank you so much for reading my hub!

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Nicole Canfield 5 years ago from the Ether

      Wow! Loved this hub. I was actually thinking about writing a hub on hares & rabbits as spirit guides myself, but I won't now that I know you beat me to the punch and very well, might I add! We had a whole family of rabbits that lived in our yard. One particular rabbit would sit in our backyard...you could walk so close to it and it wouldn't move! It was like he knew that we wouldn't harm him. We had new neighbors move in next door down with a cat that they let outside...and now the rabbit family is gone. It sort of made me sad to not see the rabbits any longer. Thanks for sharing...these animals are so wonderful.

    • CR Rookwood profile image
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      Pamela Hutson 5 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Thanks Dave! No wonder people use the phrase 'breeding like rabbits'! Seems they are pretty good at it. :)

    • Dale Hyde profile image

      Dale Hyde 5 years ago from Tropical Paradise on Planet X

      Some very interesting items here that I had no idea about! Love learning new things! Intriguing, especially, is that a rabbit can conceive again without giving birth to the first litter! Amazing. :) Great hub, voted up!

    • CR Rookwood profile image
      Author

      Pamela Hutson 5 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Thanks Civil War Bob. My Mom loved that novel. She wrote to the author and he sent her a letter back, like, a real one!

    • Civil War Bob profile image

      Civil War Bob 5 years ago from Glenside, Pennsylvania

      Interesting hub, CRR...you could have written the background material for Watership Down, one of my favorite novels. Good job.

    • CR Rookwood profile image
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      Pamela Hutson 5 years ago from Moonlight Maine

      Thank you hecate-horus! It's a slow process here, writing these hubs, isn't it? I'm glad that you found this helpful and I really appreciate your support and commentary. :)

    • hecate-horus profile image

      hecate-horus 5 years ago from Rowland Woods

      Thank you for sharing this great info and your personal experience with the hare. All animals are wise in some way and try to tell us something, we just need to listen. You obviously know how to listen. :)