HARES AND RABBITS – Leporidae

HARES AND RABBITS

HARES AND RABBITS FACTS

Adult rabbits and hares have a body length of 10 to 28 inches (25.4 to 71.1 centimeters) and weigh 14 ounces to 15.3 pounds (400 grams to 7 kilograms). They have short, furry tails and ear sizes vary greatly and generally are shorter in rabbits and longer in hares. The main exceptions are the rabbit breeds known as lops, which have long, floppy ears. Females are generally larger than males. Hares generally are larger than rabbits and have black-tipped ears.

Rabbits and hares usually have thick, soft fur that comes in a wide spectrum of colors, shades, and combinations, including black, white, brown, beige, tan, blue, orange, red, pink, cream, lilac, silver, and lavender.

Hares and rabbits have eyes set high on their head, looking sideways, giving them a wide field of vision. They have weak but flexible necks, allowing them to turn their heads with a wide range of motion. They have a single opening to pass both urine and feces. They also have a specialized part of their large intestine, called the cecum (SEE-kum), which acts as a fermentation chamber that aids in digestion of grasses.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

Hares and rabbits are found on every continent except Antarctica. They are native to every continent they are found on, except Australia where they were introduced.

HARES AND RABBITS HABITAT

Hares live in arctic tundra, steppes, wetlands, forests, and deserts. Rabbits live in pine and deciduous forests, desert, mountainous areas, scrubland, tropical rainforest, near rivers and streams, rocky outcroppings, grasslands, and areas of dense brush or other low-lying vegetation.

HARES AND RABBITS DIET

Hares and rabbits are herbivores, meaning they are plant-eaters. With a primary diet of grasses and herbs but also will feed on fruit, seeds, leaves, shoots, and bark.

BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

Rabbits and hares have several types of social structure. Most rabbits and hares in the wild live solitary lives, although they will often graze together, and are not territorial. The European rabbit is very social. It lives in “warrens,” groups of six to twelve adults controlled by a dominant male. The warren consists of a maze of burrows and chambers.

Rabbits breed throughout the year depending upon the climate, with spring and summer being the general breeding seasons in the wild. Females have multiple litters per year with litter sizes of two to eight babies on average, although it can be as high as 15 babies. The gestation period, the length of time the mother carries her babies in the womb, is twenty-five to fifty days, with the longer periods occurring in hares.

HARES AND RABBITS AND PEOPLE

Rabbits and hares are hunted worldwide for sport. They are both hunted and raised commercially for their meat and fur. Several species are used extensively in laboratories. Rabbits are also raised as pets.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Two species are listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction; eight species are listed as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction; four species are listed as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction; and six species are listed as Near Threatened, not currently threatened, but could become so.

The primary reasons for declining populations of hares and rabbits are loss of habitat, disease, especially the pox virus myxomatosis (mix-oh-mah-TOE-sus), and conversion of habitats to agricultural use by humans.

In the United States, the pygmy rabbit has experienced a sudden decline that has caught even conservation groups off-guard. Although it is listed by IUCN as Near Threatened, it is listed as an endangered species by the state of Washington. Wildlife officials estimate that as of 2003, only thirty pygmy rabbits existed in the wild in the state’s Columbia Basin. The decline is blamed on loss of sagebrush, its primary habitat. Mexico’s volcano rabbit is found only on the slopes of four volcanoes near Mexico City.

Its population is estimated at about 1,000 and declining due to encroachment on its habitat by human development. The Davis Mountains cottontail is not listed by the IUCN but Portland (Oregon) State University biologist Luis Ruedas has tried unsuccessfully to get the state of Texas to list it as endangered. It is found only in a small mountain range in Texas.