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Wildlife Wonders

Today is Rabbit Day!

You have probably seen rabbits, but have you seen a hare?  Both are in the rabbit family.  A bunny is just a small rabbit. 

The eastern cottontail rabbit is found all across the United States. It is 15 – 19″ long, weighs 2-4 lbs, and has ears that are 2-3″ long.  The European hare is 25 – 27″ long, weighs 7-10 lbs. and the ears are 4 1/2 – 5″ long. 

All rabbits have excellent hearing and eyesight.  Their eyes are on the side of their head to allow them to see almost 360o except for a small blind spot in front of them. 

Rabbits are “herbivores”, they eat plants – buds, clovers, grasses, lettuce, fruit, whatever is yummy in your garden.  You can tell if it was a rabbit or a deer that ate up your plants.  Rabbits have sharp top and bottom front teeth (incisors).  In fact they have two sets of incisors on top, one tooth behind the other.  When they bite something off it leaves a nice clean cut at a 45o angle.  Unlike a deer that has no upper incisors so when a deer bites something they just rip and pull it off.  Rabbits have continuously growing upper incisors so they need to constantly grind down their teeth by eating various foods.  Also, if you look for scat (aka poop), rabbit and deer scat is about the same size, but rabbits have round scat and deer scat is more oblong. 

Did you ever see a rabbit twitch its nose?  This helps expose the scent receptors on their noses so they can smell really well. Humans have 5-6 million scent receptors, rabbits have 100 million.  Rabbits can also sense many more flavors.  Rabbits have 17,000 taste buds, humans only 2,000 – 8,000.

Back to the differences between cottontail rabbits and hares.  If danger is sensed they will both freeze in place, often the hare will lay down flat on the ground, in the hopes that they will be “camouflaged” enough and the predator will not see them.  If a predator gets too close they will both take off in a flash.  A cottontail rabbit can run about 18 miles/hour over a short distance and will zig-zag to confuse the predator.  If they happen to be chased into the water, it is good to know they are good swimmers!  The hare at the last second will make a dash and at 43 mph they can run much faster than a rabbit. They have extremely strong hind legs.

Newborn baby hares, called leverets, are fully developed at birth – they are furred and their eyes are open. Newborn rabbits called kits or kittens are born undeveloped with closed eyes and no fur.  They grow quickly and leave the nest, a light depression in the ground lined with fur and dry leaves, in 2-3 weeks and they are on their own in 4-5 weeks. They have 3-8 kits/kittens in a litter. Hares live completely above ground and have 3-4 leverets in a litter.  Cottontail rabbits do not dig burrows, but will sometimes use woodchuck holes.

Female hares are called “jills”, male hares “jacks”.  Female rabbit is a “doe” and a male is a “buck”…just like deer. 

Rabbits are more active at dawn, 2-3 hours after the sun rises, and dusk, an hour before the sun sets.  (The term for this is crepuscular.)  This is to avoid their many predators including coyotes, fox, dogs, cats, bobcats, hawks and owls.

Rabbits and eggs are symbols of spring, rebirth and new life.  So whether you see a rabbit or hare, celebrate Easter, Passover, Nowruz (marks the beginning of spring in Iran), Songkran (Thai New Year, April 13) or the Hindu celebration of Holi (the Festival of Colors) that marks the end of winter, let’s take time to celebrate family and friends and the new life that comes with the amazing season of spring. 


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