Introduction to Rabbits and Hares
Rabbits and Hares, small, shy, furry animals that are found in nearly all parts of the world. They have been prized for centuries as food and for their fur. Domestic breeds are popular pets. They are also valued for experimental purposes in scientific laboratories. In regions where wild rabbits and hares are plentiful, however, they are a serious threat to gardens and crops, and are killed as pests. This is especially true in Australia and New Zealand, where the animals were introduced in the 1850's and multiplied rapidly because they had no natural enemies.Rabbits eat the bark of trees and shrubs in winter.
Rabbits and hares are leading characters in many fables and folk tales. The White Rabbit and the March Hare play important parts in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Brer Rabbit is the clever and mischievous hero of many of the "Uncle Remus" stories of Joel Chandler Harris. Rabbits were considered symbols of fertility by many ancient peoples, and this symbolism has survived in the Easter Bunny, which represents the rebirth that occurs in nature each spring. A rabbit's foot is a common good luck charm.
Hares, like rabbits, are lagomorphs. They look a lot alike and are often mistaken for one another. But the two animals differ in a few important ways.
Rabbits give birth to their young in fur-lined nests, but hares give birth on the ground. Baby rabbits are born furless and with their eyes closed. They stay in the nest for a couple of weeks. But newborn hares have fur and their eyes are open. In less than five minutes, baby hares are able to hop. They are ready to leave home almost immediately.
Hares usually grow bigger than rabbits. They have longer legs, feet, and ears. Hares rarely dig burrows, as some rabbits do. When a rabbit senses danger, it hops for cover. It tries to run and hide from a predator. But a hare will leap long distances across an open field. It attempts to outrun its enemy.
Rabbits are more social than hares. Rabbits like to live in groups. But hares usually live alone.
Rabbits and hares are found on every continent except Antarctica. About half of all kinds of rabbits and hares live in North America. Pikas live in Europe, Asia, and western North America.
These various animals make their homes in meadows, mountains, deserts, rain forests, swamps, and grasslands—even on the frozen tundra. These animals thrive in all types of climates.
You can often tell where one of these animals lives from its name. The swamp rabbit likes swampy habitats. It is a good swimmer. The desert cottontail, on the other hand, prefers a hot, dry habitat. The Arctic hare lives in the far North. The brush rabbit makes its home in thick, overgrown bushes.