Characteristics And Types Of Rabbits And Hares
With their long ears and bounding gait, rabbits and hares are instantly recognizable. They live almost worldwide, from the tropics to the High Arctic, and some occur in vast numbers.
Together with the rodent-like pikas, they form a group called the lagomorphs, which means “hare-shaped.” They are closely related to rodents such as squirrels and mice, but have slightly different teeth and are more strictly vegetarian. Rabbits are typically burrowers that bolt underground for safety when threatened, but most hares are long-legged athletes that live in the open country and rely on fast getaways to escape their enemies.
Location: Eurasia; introduced elsewhere
Length: Up to 271⁄2 in (70 cm)
Diet: Grass, herbs, bark
Renowned for its agility, the brown hare can easily outrun most of its enemies, often changing direction rapidly to evade pursuers. During the spring breeding season, reluctant females drive off over-eager males by sparring with their paws like boxers.
Able to hit 43 mph (70 km/h), the brown hare can run as fast as a greyhound.
Wide field of view
Big, bulging eyes high on the sides of the head give virtually all-round vision.
Very long ears catch the slightest sound that could betray a predator.
The hare’s very long hind legs allow it to run at high speeds.
A hare has big, rodent-like incisor teeth that grow onstantly to compensate for wear, with a big gap behind them that allows it to hold a lot of food in its mouth. However, unlike a rodent, a hare also has a pair of small peg teeth that have almost no function.
BLACK-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus californicus)
Location: Mexico, Western USA
Length: Up to 233⁄4 in (60.5 cm)
The enormous ears of the jackrabbit are vital to its survival in hot, dry deserts and grasslands, since they act as radiators that give off excess heat to the air and help the animal keep cool. Despite its name the jackrabbit is a hare, with long legs that give it the speed to escape a coyote.
A network of blood vessels in the ears radiates excess body heat.
VOLCANO RABBIT (Romerolagus diazi)
Length: Up to 143⁄4 in (36 cm)
With a stumpy body and short ears, this is one of the smallest and rarest rabbits. It lives only on the forested slopes of four volcanoes to the south of Mexico City, where its habitat and future are threatened by farming and road building.
EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)
Location: North and Central America
Length: Up to 19 in (48.5 cm)
The most common of many similar species known as cottontails, this is the American equivalent of the European rabbit. But instead of digging its own burrows, it occupies holes dug by other animals such as ground squirrels.
EUROPEAN RABBIT (Oryctolagus cuniculus)
Location: Western Europe; introduced elsewhere
Length: Up to 213⁄4 in (55 cm)
Once restricted to Spain, France, and North Africa, the European rabbit has been spread to many other parts of the world, and in Australia, it has become a pest. It digs extensive burrow systems, emerging mainly at night to nibble on grasses and leaves.
Powerful hind legs give the rabbit the speed to bolt for cover.
Location: Arctic Canada, Greenland
Length: Up to 261⁄2 in (67 cm)
This incredibly hardy hare lives in large groups and is adapted for the freezing climate with a very thick coat of white fur. It has shorter ears than is usual for a hare, reducing heat loss.
AMAMI RABBIT (Pentalagus furnessi)
Location: Amami islands, Japan
Length: Up to 20 in (51 cm)
An elusive, nocturnal inhabitant of dense forest, the Japanese Amami rabbit is a survivor of a type of rabbit that was once widespread in Asia but is now almost extinct. It lives in burrows that it digs with its long claws.