Hares vs Rabbits

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Hares and rabbits are often thought to be the same, but they possess distinct characteristics that set them apart. Although both animals belong to the same biological family, Leporidae, hares and rabbits differ in their physical features, habitats, and behaviors. Gaining a clear understanding of these differences can provide a better insight into their unique roles in the ecosystems they inhabit.

Physically, hares tend to be larger than rabbits, with longer ears and hind legs. These physical differences allow hares to be faster and better adapted to their above-ground habitats, where they build nests called forms. Rabbits, on the other hand, are smaller and prefer living in burrows called warrens, often forming groups of up to 20 individuals. Beyond physical features and habitats, hares and rabbits also differ in their social behaviors, dietary habits, and reproductive cycles.

Key Takeaways

  • Hares and rabbits, though related, differ in size, habitat, and behavior.
  • Rabbits prefer living in groups and underground burrows, while hares are more solitary and live above-ground.
  • Both animals exhibit different social structures, reproductive habits, and diets based on their specific adaptations.

Physical Characteristics

When comparing hares and rabbits, a key distinction lies in their physical characteristics. Hares are generally larger in size, with some species reaching up to 70cm in length and weighing between 2-5kg. In contrast, rabbits are smaller, measuring up to 40cm in length and weighing 1.2-2kg. Specific breeds, such as the Argente Creme Rabbit, may even be rarer and have unique physical traits.

The fur of rabbits and hares also varies. Hares typically have grizzled russet-brown fur with pale bellies, amber eyes, black-topped white tails, and longer legs. Meanwhile, rabbits can have different fur types and patterns, such as the American Fuzzy Lop Rabbits which result from the combination of French Angora and Holland Lop rabbit breeds.

One of the most notable physical differences is the ears. Hares have longer ears compared to rabbits. Longer hind legs are another distinguishing feature, with hares possessing more powerful hind legs that allow them to run faster in open areas. In addition, hares have larger feet than rabbits, giving them an advantage in running and escaping predators.

The body shape also varies between the two. Hares tend to have a leaner appearance, while rabbits might have a rounder, more compact body. Different rabbit breeds may also exhibit unique body features, such as the American Chinchilla Rabbits which originated in France, or the Andalusian Rabbits, native to Spain’s Andalusia region.

In summary, hares and rabbits differ in physical characteristics, such as size, fur, appearance, body shape, hind legs, tails, and longer ears. These distinctions can help one differentiate between the two species, while also showcasing the variety within rabbit breeds like Silver Rabbit and others.

Habitat and Adaptation

Hares and rabbits are two distinct species, with each adapting differently to their respective environments. While both are found in a variety of habitats, from forests to grasslands, there are some notable differences in their living arrangements and behavior.

Hares typically create nests above ground, often in tall grass or under bushes. These nests, referred to as forms, are simple depressions in the ground where hares can rest and hide from predators. The cottontail rabbit is an exception, as it also makes use of above-ground nests instead of burrows.

On the other hand, rabbits are known for living in burrows or warrens, which are complex systems of tunnels and chambers dug underground. These warrens provide safety from predators, as well as shelter from extreme weather conditions. Living underground enables rabbits to be more social, as warrens can house multiple individuals, creating colonies.

In addition to their differing habitats, hares and rabbits also display distinct adaptive behaviors. Hares rely on their incredible speed and agility to evade predators rather than seeking shelter in burrows. They have longer legs and larger ears compared to rabbits, further enabling their ability to detect danger and escape quickly.

Rabbits, however, have evolved to rely on their strong digging abilities to create elaborate underground homes. They tend to have shorter legs and smaller ears, which are well-suited for navigating their subterranean warrens. Group living in rabbits also serves to protect them from predators, allowing them to collectively respond to threats and increase their chances of survival.

In summary, hares and rabbits exhibit unique adaptations to their habitats, with hares opting for above-ground nests and relying on speed for protection, while rabbits prefer to burrow underground, using complex warrens as their primary source of shelter and security. These differences are a testament to the variety of strategies employed by these two species to thrive in their respective environments.

Behavior and Social Structure

When it comes to behavior, hares and rabbits have distinct differences. Hares are generally more active and require more space to move around. They are known to be shy and skittish creatures, often found in wide-open areas like grasslands and fields. On the other hand, rabbits are more laid-back animals with a curious nature. Since they can thrive in smaller spaces, you’ll often find rabbits in more varied habitats, such as gardens and woodlands.

In terms of sociability, rabbits are social creatures that enjoy the company of other animals. This is why they are often found living in groups, and it’s not unusual to come across a significantly sociable bunny in your experience with domesticated rabbits. In contrast, hares are more solitary animals and prefer to keep to themselves.

An interesting aspect of rabbit behavior is their sleeping habits. Although they sleep for an average of 11.4 hours per day, they also tend to sleep with their eyes open. It is an adaptation that allows them to remain vigilant and detect potential threats, even during their quiet time. Hares, too, have adapted unique behaviors to survive in the wild. For example, they exhibit fast and agile movements, which help them evade predators efficiently.

To sum up, hares and rabbits display different behavioral patterns and social structures. While rabbits tend to be social animals that can live in a variety of spaces, hares are more solitary, active, and adapted to wide-open spaces. Understanding these differences can help us appreciate the nuances between these two fascinating species.

Dietary Habits

Hares and rabbits are both herbivorous animals, which means their diet primarily consists of plant materials. They have different dietary preferences and feeding habits, reflecting their distinct habitats and behaviors.

Hares are known for consuming bark, twigs, grass, hay, and leaves. Their large size allows them to reach higher plants and shrubs, utilizing a wider range of food sources. In particular, hares have a preference for the bark of woody plants during winter months when other food sources are scarce. They also feed on various grasses, herbs, and vegetables.

On the other hand, rabbits have a more specialized diet. They primarily eat green, leafy vegetation like grasses and herbs, as well as some fruits and vegetables. Specifically, rabbits prefer tender plant shoots, which provide them with both moisture and nutrients. Additionally, rabbits practice coprophagy, a behavior where they consume their own feces to re-digest plant materials and extract more nutrients. The question of whether rabbits are omnivores or strictly herbivores can be answered at this informative article.

While both hares and rabbits are herbivorous, they exhibit variations in their dietary habits due to differences in habitat, size, and behavior. Hares take advantage of their larger body and agile nature to forage for a wide range of plant material, including bark and shrubs, while rabbits focus on tender plant shoots and practice coprophagy for a more efficient nutrient absorption.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Rabbits and hares have distinct life cycles and reproductive processes. For rabbits, the gestation period lasts around 30 to 31 days, and sometimes it can be 33 days. They usually give birth to a litter of baby rabbits, known as kittens or kits. Newborn rabbits are born with their eyes closed and without fur. The mother rabbit, referred to as a doe, tends to her babies in a nest created in shrubs, bushes, or burrowed into the dirt.

In contrast, hares have a longer gestation period of 42 days. Hare babies, called leverets, are born fully developed, with an open eyes and a coat of fur. This trait is advantageous as it allows them to become independent at an early age. Additionally, hares are known for their unique courtship behaviors during mating season, which may involve physical displays and chase sequences.

Mating season for both rabbits and hares typically occurs during warmer months, although it can vary depending on the species and region. Male hares are known to engage in courtship rituals to attract female hares, known as jills. On the other hand, rabbits are more promiscuous in their mating habits, and they do not mate for life.

The distinctions between rabbits and hares in terms of their life cycle and reproduction are fundamental to their survival strategies and natural behaviors. Their unique adaptations within their respective environments have enabled them to coexist and thrive in different habitats.

Species and Families

The family Leporidae consists of both rabbits and hares, containing around 28 species of rabbits and 30 species of hares. These animals share physical similarities, but distinctions can be made to differentiate them.

Rabbits belong to 10 different genuses, with one of the most common being the North American genus Sylvilagus, also known as cottontail rabbits. Rabbits are generally smaller than hares, with shorter ears and a preference for burrow-dwelling habitats in areas with trees and shrubs. They have a gestation period of 30-31 days, and their offspring are born without fur and with closed eyes.

On the other hand, hares belong to the genus Lepus and are generally larger than rabbits, with longer ears and black markings on their fur. Examples of hares include the white-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii) and the antelope jackrabbit (Lepus Alleni). Hares have 48 chromosomes, while rabbits possess 44. One notable difference between the two is that hares prefer to run from their enemies, while rabbits typically hide.

While the most common rabbit species is the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), several specialized breeds like the V-Line rabbit and the Baladi Black rabbit have been developed for specific purposes, such as enhanced growth rates and improved adaptation to various climate conditions.

To summarize, both rabbits and hares are members of the Leporidae family, with rabbits having shorter ears and a preference for burrow-dwelling habitats, while hares tend to be larger with longer ears and a propensity to run from threats. Their different genuses and species showcase the wide variety of rabbits and hares present in the animal kingdom.

Hares vs Rabbits: A Comparison

Hares and rabbits are often confused due to their similar appearances, but they are distinct species with notable differences. In this section, we will compare their physical features, lifestyle, and behavior, highlighting their unique characteristics.

Physically, hares are generally larger and faster than rabbits. They have longer ears and bigger feet, which allow them to move quickly and efficiently. Hares’ longer hind legs enable them to reach speeds of up to 45 miles per hour, providing them with an advantage when escaping predators. Rabbits, on the other hand, are smaller in size and prefer hiding from their enemies rather than relying on their speed.

In terms of lifestyle, hares are more solitary creatures, tending to live alone or in pairs above ground. They create small nests, called forms, made of grass in open fields or hidden under bushes. On the other hand, rabbits are social animals that often live together in groups of up to 20 individuals in underground burrows, known as warrens. These warrens provide a secure and comfortable home for rabbits and their families.

When it comes to reproduction and offspring, hares and rabbits also exhibit differences:

  • Hares: Their babies are born fully furred, with open eyes, and are called leverets.
  • Rabbits: Their babies, known as kits or kittens, are born hairless and with closed eyes.

Behaviorally, hares are known to be more aggressive and less easily domesticated compared to rabbits. They are better adapted to open spaces and can thrive in environments where they can run and evade predators. Rabbits, in contrast, are more commonly found in habitats with trees and shrubs, where they can easily hide and take cover.

In conclusion, hares and rabbits are distinguished not only by their physical appearance but also by their unique lifestyle and behavioral traits. Understanding these differences helps to appreciate the adaptive strengths and ecological roles of these fascinating creatures.

Cultural and Historical Presence

Rabbits and hares have made their presence known in various cultures and historical contexts. One of the most famous representations of these creatures is Bugs Bunny, a cartoon character that appears in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series. Bugs Bunny, often referred to as a rabbit, illustrates the blurred lines between hares and rabbits, as his behavior and appearance show characteristics of both.

The Easter Bunny and Easter Hare play important roles in the celebration of Easter, particularly in North America and some European countries like Germany. The Easter Bunny is responsible for distributing colored eggs and candy to children. The tradition of the Easter Hare, which originated in German folklore, involves a hare laying eggs for children to find. These characters represent the significant place rabbits and hares hold in the cultural fabric of these societies.

Pet rabbits have long been a part of domestic life, with their gentle nature and easy adaptability to human care making them perfect pets. Domesticated rabbits are often smaller than their wild counterparts, with varying fur colors and patterns that have been selectively bred. Rabbits are popular pets in countries all around the world, including the United States and the United Kingdom.

The cultural presence of hares and rabbits is not limited to these examples. These animals have made their way into many languages and mythologies, often taking on symbolic roles. In Old English, the word “hare” has Germanic roots, while the Latin word for “rabbit” has French origins. The beliefs surrounding rabbits and hares also vary across cultures. For instance, some societies depict the “Hare (or Rabbit) in the Moon,” an image of a hare or rabbit on the moon’s surface, as opposed to the “Man in the Moon” from Western folklore. In Chinese mythology, the Hare in the Moon is associated with immortality and protection of wild animals.

In summary, rabbits and hares have held significant cultural and historical roles throughout time. They have been utilized in folklore, mythologies, and popular culture, while also serving as domesticated pets. The diverse representations and symbolisms of these creatures demonstrate their importance and influence in societies around the world.

Conservation and Threats

Rabbits and hares both belong to the family Leporidae and are classified as lagomorphs. They share certain characteristics, but there are also key differences between the two mammals which affect their conservation status and the threats they face.

Rabbits and hares usually have a short lifespan, with many species living for only two to three years in the wild. Due to their reproductive abilities, their populations can recover quickly. However, this is not always the case. Climate change and human activities are impacting the habitats of these animals, threatening their populations. In fact, more than two-thirds of rabbit species could be forced to relocate as a result of climate change, and there is a high likelihood of extinctions among some species.

The habitats of rabbits and hares vary greatly. While rabbits tend to live in complex burrows called warrens, hares prefer open spaces such as fields or plains and create small nests called forms. This diverse range of habitats exposes them to a variety of threats, both natural and human-induced. Predators such as foxes pose a significant risk to these small mammals, especially at dawn and night when they are most active.

Habitat destruction, primarily caused by human activities, is the leading threat to rabbit and hare populations. This includes agricultural expansion, urban development, and deforestation. The loss of habitat impacts their survival as it reduces available shelter, food sources, and mating opportunities.

Conservation efforts for rabbits and hares typically focus on habitat preservation and minimization of human impact. By protecting and restoring their habitats, the chances of long-term survival for these species can be improved. However, given the multitude of threats they face, it is crucial for conservation strategies to account for the complex interplay between environmental factors and human influence.

In summary, rabbits and hares face a variety of threats, including predation, habitat loss, and climate change. As lagomorphs with different living preferences and behaviors, tailor-made conservation efforts are required to mitigate these threats and ensure the continued survival of these fascinating mammals.


In the world of Lagomorpha, rabbits and hares are two closely related yet distinct creatures that share many similarities but also possess unique differences. Both belonging to the family Leporidae, rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) and hares (genus Lepus) inhabit various parts of the globe with diverse habitat preferences.

Hares, which include species such as the European hare and the March hare, are generally larger and swifter than their rabbit counterparts. These agile creatures are known for their impressive speed and long ears, allowing them to evade predators efficiently. Hares are also precocial, meaning their young—called leverets—are born well-developed, with open eyes and a full coat of fur.

On the other hand, rabbits, like the common cottontail (Sylvilagus), are typically smaller and slower than hares with shorter ears and more compact bodies. Unlike hares, rabbits are known for their intricate burrow systems, which they use for shelter and protection from predators. Rabbit offspring, known as kits or kittens, are born altricial—blind, hairless, and vulnerable—requiring parental care for survival.

Dusk is the prime time for both rabbits and hares, as they venture out during twilight hours to forage for food. This crepuscular behavior allows them to minimize the risk of predation by avoiding the peak activity times of their natural enemies. Notably, while hares display solitary tendencies, rabbits are more social creatures, often forming groups called “warrens.”

In the realm of classification, both the buck—a male rabbit—and the hare play vital roles within their respective ecosystems. Though they share the same Lagomorpha order, their distinct physical and behavioral traits carve out unique niches in the animal kingdom. By understanding and appreciating these differences, one can delve deeper into the fascinating world of rabbits and hares with a confident, knowledgeable approach.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences between hares and rabbits?

Hares and rabbits have several notable differences. In general, hares are larger and have longer ears than rabbits. Hares are also born fully furred and with open eyes, whereas rabbits are born hairless and with closed eyes. While hares prefer open habitats such as grasslands and rely on their speed to escape predators, rabbits are more inclined towards habitats with trees and shrubs, relying on burrows for shelter and safety.

Can hares and rabbits interbreed?

No, hares and rabbits cannot interbreed. They belong to different genera within the family Leporidae and have different chromosome numbers, which makes them incapable of successfully producing offspring together.

Which is faster: a hare or a rabbit?

Hares are generally faster than rabbits. While rabbits can reach speeds of over 50 kilometers per hour in short bursts, hares can run much faster and maintain their speed for longer periods. For example, the brown hare can reach speeds of up to 72 kilometers per hour.

Is a jackrabbit a type of hare or rabbit?

Despite its name, a jackrabbit is actually a type of hare. Jackrabbits are known for their long legs and large ears, which are characteristic features of hares. They are typically found in open habitats, such as deserts and grasslands, in North America.

Are there hares native to the United States?

Yes, there are hares native to the United States. Some examples include the snowshoe hare, which is found in the northern parts of the US and Canada, and the various species of jackrabbits that inhabit the deserts and grasslands of North America.

What is the difference between a bunny and a rabbit?

The terms “bunny” and “rabbit” are often used interchangeably. However, “bunny” usually refers to a young rabbit and is colloquially used as a more endearing term for these animals. In contrast, “rabbit” is a more general term that encompasses the entire species.

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