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What are Lagomorphs?

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  • Written By: Michael Anissimov
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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Lagomorphs, Order Lagomorpha, is an order of placental mammals that includes two families, Leporidae (hares and rabbits), and Ochotonidae (pikas). Lagomorphs are part of Grandorder Anagalida, which also includes rodents and elephant shrews. At one point, based on their superficial resemblance, lagomorphs were classified as a superfamily within order Rodentia, but have since been given their own order.

The word "lagomorph" is derived from the Greek lago-, which means hare, and -morph, which means bearing a resemblance to. The order contains about 45 species.

Lagomorphs are all ground-dwelling, and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Their natural range included all the continents but Antarctica and Australia. Lagomorphs were introduced to Australia and New Zealand with early European colonists, where they reproduced quickly and endlessly, much to the detriment of the local flora and fauna. This led to the saying, "breeding like rabbits". On these isolated land masses, lagomorphs lack natural predators, as the few surviving marsupial predators (like the Tasmanian Devil) are close to extinction, and natural species are less voracious eaters with slower metabolisms and reproductive rates.

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Lagomorphs are small and furry, displaying little internal variation relative to other mammalian orders. They range in size from the small Steppe Pika, 18 cm (7 in) long with a weight of 75-210 g, to the larger European Hare, whose largest members have a head-body length of 76 cm (30 in) with a weight of 5 kg (11 lb). Extinct lagomorphs, such as the Minorcan Giant Lagomorph, whose fossils were found on the Mediterranean island of Minorca, ranged up to about three feet in height (not including the ears), with a weight of 23 kg (50 lb). This is an example of island gigantism, where island species grow to large sizes due to an absence of predators.

Rabbits and hares are common animals found among grassy areas, where they forage on a crepuscular schedule (dawn and dusk). By foraging at these times, they avoid predators adapted to either day or night hunting, making the greatest possible use of light while avoiding the danger of mid-day. Pikas, less frequently encountered by humans, are small lagomorphs that live in colonies among crevices in rocks, frequently in chilly mountainous regions. They alert each other of the presence of predators using a high-pitched squeak.

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