Look, is that a cute bunny in the grass over there? No, it’s a lightning-fast hare racing for its life! Rabbits and hares may appear similar, but they live remarkably different lives. One is timid while the other thumps warnings. One sleeps during the day as the other awakens under the moonlight. Though they are kin, unique survival strategies prevent them from intermingling. Come discover what sets them apart, how to identify each in the wild, and when to admire from afar versus reach out to touch. This article will uncover surprising truths about the parallel worlds of rabbits and hares that hop through our landscapes. Get ready for a wild ride down the rabbit hole!

Are Rabbits And Hares The Same Animal?

Rabbits and hares belong to the same family, Leporidae, but they are separate species. Hares are generally larger and have longer ears and legs than rabbits. Hares live solitarily or in pairs, while rabbits live in social groups in underground burrows. Hares are born fully furred with eyes open, able to hop within minutes of birth. Rabbits are born hairless and blind, requiring care for the first few weeks.

Hares have a more muscular body and powerful hind legs adapted for speed, capable of running up to 45 mph. Rabbits have a smaller, leaner body built for agility and evading predators by running in zig-zag patterns. Hares live in open grasslands, while rabbits prefer areas with dense vegetation for hiding.

While varying in appearance, the main distinction is hares birth precocious young while rabbits birth altricial young. Precocial species can move around right after birth, while altricial species require nurturing and time to develop. This difference in reproduction is why hares and rabbits are classified as distinct species.

What Are The Differences Between Rabbits and Hares?

There are several key differences that distinguish hares from rabbits:

  • Size – Hares are generally larger in size than rabbits. They can range from 17 to 24 inches in length compared to rabbits that are usually 8 to 20 inches.

  • Ears – Hares tend to have very long black-tipped ears that can grow over 6 inches long. Rabbits have shorter rounded ears that are usually brown or grey.

  • Hind legs – Hares have larger and more muscular back legs than rabbits. This provides them with incredible speed and agility.

  • Fur – Hares have fur that remains a consistent brownish or grayish color year-round. Rabbits can be white, brown, black, spotted, or mixed and some change color seasonally.

  • Habitat – Hares prefer open fields and meadows. Rabbits want thick bushes and vegetative cover. Hares cannot burrow but make simple nests on the ground.

  • Social structure – Hares are solitary animals that only pair up to mate. Rabbits live in large communal groups with complex social structures.

  • Diet – Rabbits are herbivores that eat grasses, leafy weeds, vegetables, and hay. Hares have a more varied diet and will eat grasses, buds, bark, and twigs.

  • Night activity – Hares are most active at night. Rabbits are active during dawn and dusk.

  • Babies – Newborn hares are furry with open eyes. Newborn rabbits are hairless and blind.

Hares are More Skittish Than Rabbits

Hares tend to be very alert, high-strung animals that are cautious of threats. Their body language conveys a constant state of nervous tension and readiness to flee at the slightest provocation. Even in areas where they are rarely hunted, hares maintain a strong flight response and skittish demeanor.

In contrast, rabbits are prey animals but due to their smaller size and different habitat, they do not display the same overt edginess. Rabbits exhibit watchful behavior blended with periods of calm as they groom, feed and interact socially. They may freeze and observe when detecting potential danger but are not constantly on high alert like hares.

Hares rely on their powerful legs to bound away and escape predators at top speed. This need for evasion has selected traits for alertness, readiness and quick reflexes. Hares have also evolved to be solitary to avoid drawing attention and competition. Rabbits gain security from hiding in thickets and burrows which relaxes selection pressures. Plus they find safety in numbers by living in groups.

The difference in skittishness can be seen when observing hares and rabbits in the wild. Hares will leap and dash away at the slightest disturbance. Rabbits will cautiously watch and retreat to cover if they sense a threat. The hare's nervous vigilance maximizes its chances of survival as a solitary prey animal in open country.

Hares are Nocturnal While Rabbits are Crepuscular

Rabbits and hares have different schedules for activity shaped by their habitats and lifestyles. Rabbits are crepuscular meaning most active during twilight around dawn and dusk. Their underground burrows provide shelter and safety so they can be above ground in daylight hours. Cooler weather also favors rabbit daytime activity.

In contrast, hares are generally nocturnal or night-feeders. Their exposed habitat on open plains provides better cover under darkness. Since hares cannot burrow, they rely on camouflage and hiding in short vegetation. Being active at night reduces their visibility and makes it harder for predators to hunt them.

Evolution has reinforced the night-time preferences in hares. They have large eyes placed on the sides of their head to enhance night vision over a wide radius. Keen hearing picks up on faint night noises. Hares also have non-reflective retinas with an extra layer of cells allowing light to pass through for night vision.

Rabbits have smaller forward facing eyes adapted for precision day vision. Special crepuscular activity levels lets them feed under the dimmer twilight lighting. Rabbits also gain security from living in communal burrow systems, allowing them to venture out more during daylight.

The hare's nocturnal schedule overlaps with their watchful, solitary lifestyle in open meadows. Meanwhile rabbits can benefit from safer visibility and temperatures by being active in cooler dawn and dusk periods while taking refuge in burrows during the day.

Hares Have a Different Reproductive Cycle to Rabbits

Hares and rabbits have evolved different reproductive strategies as a result of their environments, diets and behaviors. These differences include:

  • Gestation periods – The gestation period for hares is about 42 days compared to 28-35 days in rabbits. Hares need extra development time due to giving birth to precocial young able to move right after birth.

  • Litter sizes – Rabbits give birth to larger litters on average (4-12 babies) than hares (1-4 babies). Rabbits leverage safety in numbers and communal living for protecting and feeding bigger families.

  • Nesting – Rabbits create complex burrows for birthing and raising litters in a nursery chamber guarded by the mother. Hares lacked this option and must nest in shallow depressions on open ground.

  • Nursing habits – Baby hares only nurse for 20-25 minutes per day, requiring nutritious milk compared to nearly constant nursing for rabbit litters. Independent hares young must also be ready sooner to evade predators.

  • Breeding frequency – Rabbits can breed year-round and produce many overlapping litters. Northern latitude hares sync breeding with seasonal optima and only produce 1-3 litters.

  • Maturity rates – Young hares reach sexual maturity quicker at 4-5 months old, while rabbits take 6 months on average. The hare's shorter life expectancy pressured faster development.

These adaptations allow hares to reproduce under challenging open country conditions without protective burrows or social structure. Meanwhile rabbits evolved larger families nurtured in communal underground environments.

Could a Rabbit Mate with a Hare?

While rabbits and hares are close biological relatives within the Leporidae family, they are still distinct species that have evolved genetic divergence. This makes interbreeding between a rabbit and hare very rare and biologically difficult. There are several barriers that prevent mating:

  • Different chromosomes – Rabbits have 22 pairs of chromosomes while hares have 48 pairs. This mismatch makes successful embryo development highly unlikely.

  • Anatomical variations – Differences in the reproductive anatomy like gestation periods and fertility signals could make breeding challenging.

  • Separate habitats – Rabbits and hares live segregated wild ranges with minimal natural interaction or mating exposure.

  • Behavioral isolation – Even if together, the separate social patterns of rabbits and hares prevent mating opportunities.

  • Offspring infertility – If a rare cross-species breeding occurred, the offspring would likely be infertile like mules from horse and donkey interbreeding.

  • No evolutionary advantage – There is no genetic reason to drive mating between rabbits and hares to reinforce reproductive isolation.

While not technically impossible, there are no known cases of rabbits and hares interbreeding successfully. The few reported instances lack reliable verification. Overall the genetic and behavioral differences make rabbit-hare hybridization practically impossible under natural conditions.

Breeds of Rabbit And Hare in North America

There are several species and breeds of wild rabbit and hare found across different regions of North America.

Common rabbit species:

  • Eastern cottontail – Most common wild rabbit of the continent found up to 8,000 ft elevation. Brownish grey coat.

  • Desert cottontail – Southwest desert regions. Paler brown or grey coat.

  • New England cottontail – Northeastern coastal regions in brush and thickets.

  • Pygmy rabbit – Small bunny of the Rockies and Cascades, 6-8 inches long.

  • European rabbit – Not native but breeds as an invasive species in some areas.

Common hare species:

  • Snowshoe hare – Northern regions with seasonal color morphs. White in winter, brown in summer.

  • White-tailed jackrabbit – Midwestern plains up to western states like a small prairie antelope.

  • Black-tailed jackrabbit – American Southwest deserts. Distinctive long black-tipped ears.

  • Arctic hare – Northernmost North America and Canada. Largest hare species adapted to the cold.

There are also domesticated rabbit breeds raised for fur, meat and as pets such as the New Zealand, Angora, Flemish Giant, Holland Lop, and Mini Rex. No hare breeds have been domesticated. Both rabbits and hares demonstrate amazing adaptation across North America's diverse ecosystems.

Encountering Rabbits and Hares in the Wild

Observing rabbits or hares in their natural habitat presents a special opportunity. Here are some tips for respectfully maximizing the experience:

  • Move slowly and quietly to avoid spooking them. Use minimal gestures.

  • Approach from downwind so your scent doesn't alert them prematurely.

  • Look for signs like scat, tracks, or burrow entrances without intruding inside.

  • Bring binoculars for watching from a non-threatening distance rather than encroaching on the animal's space.

  • Take photographs from cover using telephoto lenses rather than chasing or cornering the animal.

  • Note differences in features like size, ears, and tail to identify the species.

  • Record location, habitat, and behavior notes to enrich the wildlife observation.

  • Resist attempting to touch, handle or interact beyond passive watching. This protects both you and the animal.

With patient, low impact observation, you can have memorable encounters with these endearing creatures and admire their grace in the natural world they belong to.

Should I Handle a Wild Rabbit or Hare?

It's not recommended to try handling a wild rabbit or hare even if it seems friendly and approachable. Here are some key reasons why you should enjoy observing from a distance but avoid contact:

  • Stress – Grabbing or restraining wild animals subjects them to extreme distress which can lead to shock or heart failure.

  • Diseases – Wild rabbits and hares can harbor external parasites like fleas, mites and ticks that can transfer to humans through contact. They may also carry pathogens like tularemia.

  • Aggression – Though tempting, rabbits and hares are still instinctual wild animals that may bite or scratch when threatened or restrained.

  • Abandonment – Handling a wild baby bunny could cause a mother rabbit to abandon it due to your human scent.

  • Misunderstanding intent – The rabbit or hare has no context to understand your actions. Restraint only creates an unsettling negative experience.

  • Habituation – Getting wild animals accustomed to human handling puts them at greater risk by reducing natural wariness.

  • Legal issues – Capturing and handling wildlife potentially violates certain state laws and requires permits.

For the well-being of both the animals and yourself, follow "look but don't touch" etiquette. If an animal truly seems sick/injured, contact wildlife experts for humane intervention. Otherwise observe and appreciate rabbits and hares safely from their world.


While often confused, rabbits and hares are distinct species adapted to different environments and lifestyles. Key traits like eyes, ears, feet, coloration and behavior offer clues about whether you are observing a rabbit or a hare. Both play important roles in ecosystems across North America. With mindful observation and restraint, anyone can enjoy encountering these amazing creatures in the wild. This article covers the major differences and provides guidance on respectful wildlife watching to see rabbits and hares hopping through their natural habitats.



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