What is the Difference Between Rabbits and Hares?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2019
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Although often confused in folklore, popular thought, and even the names of some animals, rabbits and hares belong to distinct genera, meaning that they differ genetically and do not interbreed in nature. Rabbits and hares belong to the family Leporidae and are the two most well known members of the order Lagomorpha, which only includes one other animal, the pika. Although frequently thought of as rodents, rabbits and hares have several features that distinguish them from members of the order Rodentia, and Lagomorpha was established as a separate order in the early 20th century.

One of the most important differences between rabbits and hares is that one rabbit species has been domesticated, while no hares have. While both animals exist in the wild, people do not keep hares as pets or raise them as livestock. For the most part, hares and rabbits differ in appearance, with the larger hare appearing more streamlined and wiry, with larger back legs and feet and very large ears that stick straight up from the head. The many varieties of jackrabbit are among the most well known hares in the Americas, along with the Snowshoe Hare, famous for changing its color seasonally as a form of camouflage.


Rabbits and hares also differ in their lifestyle and behavior. Rabbits are altricial, meaning that they are born blind, hairless, and helpless, while hares are precocial, born with fur and vision and able to fend for themselves fairly quickly. This is no doubt related to the fact that hares give birth in shallow depressions or nests above ground, while rabbits, except for the cottontail genus, are birthed in underground borrows or warrens, which provide increased protection. Most rabbits also live in these warrens as adults in groups, while hares and cottontail rabbits live singly or in pairs in above-ground nests.

To add to the confusion, in addition to the large group of hares called jackrabbits, there is a domesticated variety of rabbit that resembles the jackrabbit and is named the Belgian hare. Many folktales and traditions also confuse the two animals, such as the tradition in many Eastern cultures that either hares or rabbits live on the moon, depending on the source you read. Both animals have ancient and mysterious mythical associations, often related to fertility, as rabbits are avid breeders.


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Post 4

Rabbits tend to be trainable and loyal. My son had one as a bet and we showed him at 4-H. Mr. Furry won a blue ribbon for behavior and poise! I think they make great pets, especially for little ones to start having that responsibility.

Post 1

very helpful and descriptive.

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