Rabbits and Hares: Similarities and Differences

Colloquially, rabbits and hares are often equated, but in reality they are different species. They only have one family in common: the lagomorphs. This is comparable to humans and chimpanzees, both of which belong to the primates but are nevertheless different subspecies. But how do you tell the difference between the two long ears?

"Allow me, my name is Hase, also known as Master Lamp"introduces this pretty bunny – Shutterstock / Soru Epotok

“Allow me, my name is Hase, aka Master Lamp,” introduces this pretty brown hare – Shutterstock / Soru Epotok

When rabbits and hares are fully grown, it is quite easy to tell the difference. Brown hares are significantly larger than wild rabbits, appear slimmer overall and have longer ears. However, the little animals also have very different habits.

Common family of rabbits and hares

But first to the similarities between rabbits and hares: their distant relationship. The lagomorphs, like primates and rodents, belong to the higher mammals. Primates include monkeys, which also include humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas. Examples of rodents are guinea pigs, chinchillas, mice, rats, beavers and hamsters. Contrary to popular belief, rabbits and hares are not rodents. While their diets may share similarities (bunnies, guinea pigs, and rabbits are both purely vegan), they eat their food in different ways. Rabbits make lateral, circular jaw movements to shred their twigs and grass. Rodents can hold their food with their front paws and grind it up with their mouths by moving back and forth.

The order of lagomorphs can be divided into two families: the hares (Leporidae) and the pikas (Ochotonidae). Wild rabbits and brown hares both belong to the Leporidae but are distinct subspecies within this family. They cannot mate with each other, and it is not possible to cross-breed the two animal species – just as it is not the case with humans and gorillas.

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Difference in appearance of lagomorphs

Brown hares are almost twice the size of wild rabbits. With a body length between 50 and 70 centimeters, they can weigh four to seven kilograms – about as much as a cat. Wild rabbits are only 25 to 40 centimeters long and weigh only one to three kilograms. Hares also appear slimmer and longer overall than wild rabbits, whose physique is more rounded and stocky. The spoons – i.e. the ears of the rabbits – are also different. In the hare, they are longer than its head and have black tips. Wild rabbits have much shorter spoons with no black ear tips.

In addition, wild rabbits often have dark, almost black beady eyes, while the brown hare’s pupils stand out clearly against the light brown iris. The difference in coat color is there, but not easy to spot at first glance. Brown hares appear more earth-colored, the brown of wild rabbits is slightly greyish.

Hares live differently than rabbits

Brown hares and wild rabbits have very different habitats and habits. It starts at birth. While rabbits are precocious and are born blind, deaf and naked after a gestation period of around 30 days, hares are precocial. Much like guinea pig babies, bunny rabbits are born with fur, open eyes and fully developed hearing. The roosts remain hidden deep in the rabbit hole, snuggled up warm and protected from predators, for several weeks until they are big enough to hop out on their own and go cautiously exploring. The precocials are born in an open field in a grass or earth hollow – the so-called Sasse. The mother comes by once a day to suckle, otherwise the mini rabbits are on their own and quickly run into hiding if danger arises.

Hares are loners and only come together to mate, wild rabbits are pack animals that live together in larger groups. Unlike rabbits, hares are not kept as pets and are also protected. A wide variety of domestic rabbit breeds, which can vary in size, were bred from wild rabbits; sometimes larger than hares. However, they all have the wild rabbit ancestor and share the same needs. For them, keeping them alone is cruelty to animals and they need places to hide – in the wild they are short-distance sprinters and quickly flee into their dens. Brown hares have a longer stamina and also flee over longer distances thanks to their breathtaking speed.

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