Rabbits and Hares are of the same family and share very many of the same features and traits. Visually, it is very easy to mistake one for the other, unless you know what to look for. Some rabbits, like the Flemish Giant can be big like a hare, whereas others can be much, much smaller.
Despite the similarities, they are both very unique animals, with traits, behaviours and personalities that set them apart from each other.
So in comparing the Hare vs Rabbit, what are the differences exactly?
How do you tell them apart and what is unique about each?
Hare Vs Rabbit – Taxonomies
Rabbits and Hares, are both mammals which belong to the ‘Lagomorph’ order (Lagomorph means ‘hare-shaped’), and both belong to the family ‘Leporidae’ within this order. They are both, however, separated into different genus. Here are the taxonomies of each:
- Order: Lagomorpha
- Family: Leporidae
- Genus: Lepus
There are over 30 species of Hare across 9 subgenus. While some Lagomorphs outside the Lepus genus contain the word ‘hare’ in their name, only those in the genus Lepus are considered to be true hares.
- Order: Lagomorpha
- Family: Leporidae
- Genus: Pentalagus, Bunolagus, Nesolagus, Romerolagus, Brachylagus, Sylvilagus, Oryctolagus, Poelagus
The term rabbit is typically used for all Leporidae species excluding the genus Lepus, which are hares.
Of all the rabbit species within these Genus, the vast majority of domestic rabbits kept as pets, are of the European Rabbit – Oryctolagus genus.
Hare Vs Rabbit – Appearance
Rabbits are typically smaller than hares, and their ears are shorter and more rounded. Hares have longer, more pointed ears, and their hind legs are usually slightly longer than their front legs. In general, rabbits are also less agile and fast than hares.
It is much easier to tell a domestic rabbit apart from a hare than a wild one. From the abundant breeds of domestic rabbit available, pretty much all of those breeds come from the ‘Oryctolagus cuniculus’ species. Within this species various breeds have been developed by enhancing different characteristics through selective breeding. You can read more about specific breeds in our rabbit breeds section of the site.
A wild rabbit can look much closer to a hare in terms of coat coloring and skittish behavior, but the ears are usually a dead giveaway.
Differences You Might Not See
- Hares have kinetic and jointed skulls which makes them unique amongst mammals.
- Hares have 48 chromosomes and Rabbits have only 44
- Hare are born Precocial and are able to see and move from birth. Rabbits are born Artricial – blind and hairless, vulnerable at birth.
Hare Vs Rabbit – Size
Rabbits are typically smaller than hares, (with exceptions) with most adults weighing between 2 and 4 pounds (1.2 – 2 kg) and growing up to around 40 centimetres in length. Hares, on the other hand, can weigh anywhere from 4 to 11 pounds, making them about twice as large as rabbits. This size difference is most evident in the young of both species – baby rabbits weigh around 1/2 a pound, while baby hares weigh around 1 pound.
Hare species in general, vary in size from 40 to 70 cm in length with ears up to 20 cm in length. One example, the snowshoe hare, has a body length of 36 – 52 centimetres and a tail length of 2.5 – 5.5 centimetres. It weighs around 3 to 4 pounds as an adult.
The smallest breed of rabbit is the Netherland Dwarf Rabbit which weighs just about 1 kilogram. The largest breed of rabbit is the Flemish Giant Rabbit which weighs in at about 8 kilograms. – twice the size of the average cat.
Where Do Hares And Rabbits Live?
Hares and rabbits are found all over the world, but there are some regions where they are more common than others. For example, it’s estimated that half of the worlds rabbit population lives in North America! They are also commonly commonly found Southern and Western parts of Europe, parts of Southeast Asia including Japan, African and South America.
Some regions, like the USA, have lots (15 species) of rabbit and hares present, while others such as South America, are mostly populated by just one rabbit species. Rabbits are not native to much of Eurasia, particularly in the North and East, where the hare is more established.
Interestingly, unlike the hare, rabbits are not native to the United Kingdom where both wild and domesticated species thrive today. It was thought they were first brought over during the Norman conquest, but more recent evidence suggests it was the Romans that introduced the rabbit the the UK.
Hares are native to Africa, North America and much of Continental Europe. They have been introduced to other areas such as Australia and New Zealand in the 1800’s, but are not a native to these areas.
Hare Vs Rabbit – Habitat & Behaviour
When it comes to their behavior, rabbits are generally more timid than hares. They are also more likely to live in burrows, while hares live in open areas. Rabbits will also bear their young below ground in a burrow. A group of burrows close together is called a warren. IN captivity, rabbits are often kept in indoor or outdoor hutches or cages.
In the wild, rabbits like dry, well-drained slopes on field edges, grassland, woodland and dunes. Rabbits live in open country where predators like foxes and birds of prey are easily spotted. One rabbit is always on guard when they are feeding. When danger approaches the guard stamps its feet and the whole colony will very quickly hurry down into their burrows.
The European Hare breeds on the ground rather than in a burrow. They bear their young in a shallow depression or nest of grass which is called a ‘form’, and rely on speed to escape any threats. The snowshoe hare on the other hand, lives in forest areas where the ground is covered with undergrowth, swamps and thickets.
Hares are also generally more active during the day, while rabbits are more active at night. They are generally shy mammals, however, their behaviour changes in springtime. Many are seen in broad daylight chasing one another in meadows.
What Do Hares and Rabbits Eat?
Rabbits and hares are both herbivores, meaning they only eat plants. Their diet consists mostly of grasses and other low-growing plants. In the wild, they will also eat bark, twigs, and leaves, but this can change seasonally. The European hare for example, will eat grasses and herbs during summer months and changes to twigs and bark in the winter.
Domestic rabbits usually have a diet of pellets, hay, and vegetables. They may have a much more varied diet in captivity, with access to foods they may not locally find in their wild habitat range.
Lifespan Of A Hare Vs Rabbit
A hare less than one year old is called a “leveret”. The collective noun for a group of hares is a “husk”, a “down” or a “drove”. Baby rabbits on the other hand, are called ‘kittens’, and a group of rabbits are called a colony, drove or a fluffle.
In the wild, the Doe (female rabbit) can produce a litter of around 3 – 7 young at one time. These litters of young rabbits (called ‘kittens’) are usually produced at 5 week intervals from January through to late summer. Kittens are born in underground burrows and are suckled by the female.
Rabbits reproduce much faster than hares. A female rabbit can have up to eight litters of per year, while a hare may only have one or two litters. This difference is likely due to the fact that hares are generally larger and need more time to recover from the birthing process.
Rabbits that are kept as pets tend to have a life expectancy of about 8 – 12 years if cared for properly, however, rabbits in the wild do not live as long. Because of natural predators such as foxes, weasels and even crows, rabbits in the wild typically live for around 3-5 years, while hares can live for up to 10 years.
In general, hare are not domesticated, they are wild and are not kept as pets. While they are hunted for game meet, they are generally not bred as livestock.
Hare Vs Rabbit – Predators & Threats
Rabbits and hares are both prey animals, which means they are hunted by other animals, including humans, for food. The hare’s natural predators include the Golden Eagle and carnivorous mammals like the Red Fox and Wolf. Some of their common predators include weasels, coyotes, hawks, and owls.
Rabbits are also sometimes killed by vehicles, when they cross roads. It happens to hares too, but it’s less common. The European Hare is declining in Europe due to changes in farming practices.