The Easter season is approaching, and it’s time for the Easter bunny to bring colorful eggs and candies to children. Or was it an Easter hare? Or an Easter rabbit?
It turns out people have been confusing one for the other for a long time. And we can’t blame them, as these cute, furry animals appear almost identical with their long ears and fluffy coats.
If you’re reading this, you might be one of those who wants to put this matter to rest once and for all. Well, you’ve come to the right place.
In this post, we’ll talk about the similarities and differences between these adorable animals. So keep reading, and let’s resolve the decades-old question of rabbit vs. bunny vs. hare.
For the most part, we won’t bat an eye when they confuse a rabbit with a hare or a hare with a bunny. The truth, however, is much more complicated than that.
First and foremost, rabbits and bunnies refer to the same animal. The only difference is that rabbit is the formal name, whereas bunny is a form of endearment to them.
On the other hand, a hare is a totally different species from a rabbit. While sharing some similar features, a rabbit is only as related to a hare as a goat to a sheep.
Did you know that rabbits weren’t called rabbits until the 18th century? Initially, people called these animals coneys, and when people say rabbits, they used to mean the babies of coneys.
That said, rabbit is the present correct English name for the animal. It also describes the 20 related species of these mammals, including the European rabbits.
The term hare, however, is relatively older than rabbits and bunnies. It came from the old English word “Hara,” speculated to denote the typical gray color of hares.
So, where did the name bunnies come from? Well, a bunny was a term used to describe small little girls as an endearment, which later became an umbrella term for small furry animals.
The connection between rabbits and the term bunnies emerged when the Germans introduced the folklore of the Easter hare. As the Easter tradition spread across the US, they replaced the word hare with the cuter version, bunny.
In other words, the bunny is simply a colloquial term bearing no scientific relevance to these furry creatures. People only use it to mean something is adorable, and rabbits sure are!
At present, we use the word bunny to refer to young rabbits, particularly those under the age of 12 months. People also refer to them as kits, kittens, or kitties.
It’s easy to confuse a hare with a rabbit based on looks. So, if you want to be able to distinguish one from the other, here are the things you need to know:
These animals, however, don’t belong to the same species. Taxonomists categorize domestic rabbits under the scientific name Oryctolagus cuniculus, with European rabbits and Conejo.
That said, there are several genera of rabbits identified all over the world. And currently, the American Rabbit Breeders Association has recognized 49 distinct rabbit breeds.
Most rabbit species are native to Africa, Europe, India, Sumatra, and Japan. In the US, the native rabbit species is the cottontail, generally found in the Eastern half of the country.
On the other hand, hares are a separate species under the genera Lepus. Biologists identify over 30 species of these mammals belonging to the same Leporidae family.
The most common hare species in America are the Snowshoe Hare and the Black-tailed, White-tailed, and White-sided Jackrabbits. The majority of hare species are indigenous to certain parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Aside from their scientific categorization, rabbits and hares also prefer different habitats. This information would be plenty useful in determining whether you’re dealing with a rabbit or a hare.
Rabbits choose forests, grasslands, meadows, woods, and wetlands for their home. They like these types of environments because they’re ground-dwellers.
They tend to make burrows (warrens) in quiet, grassy areas. These rabbit holes usually connect with a network of underground chambers and passageways they use to run from predators.
Moreover, rabbits live in families and groups called a colony. And a single pair of rabbits can produce a colony of over 1300 kitties in under two years.
Hares generally live in open areas and prairies with scattered vegetation. Unlike rabbits, they prefer arid environments, as they don’t need to burrow underground for survival.
These furry mammals live on the surface, creating simple nests made of grass called forms. Hares are also runners—banking on their speed to escape their predators.
Unlike their social cousins, hares prefer to live and survive alone than in groups. They do, however, occasionally band together to graze as a way to thwart predators.
As these animals are essentially cousins, it’s not surprising that they share some similarities. The people who confuse the two creatures usually point to their iconic ears and legs.
One striking difference between them, however, is their body mass. Depending on the species, an adult rabbit can weigh around two to five pounds (one to two kilograms).
On the contrary, hares tend to be larger and heavier. An adult brown hare, for example, can weigh up to 5 to 15 pounds (three to seven kilograms) depending on gender.
Biologists identify hares as the tallest members of the lagomorph order. Their body length ranges from 16 to 28 inches, their feet 5 to 6 inches, and their ears can extend up to 8 inches.
In contrast, the average rabbit’s ears can only extend up to two inches. Their bodies are usually shorter, with adults growing to only 11 to 15 inches long.
Despite these differences in body lengths, hares and rabbits have small tails. A domestic rabbit’s and a common hare’s tail can extend one to three inches long.
Another distinguishing feature of rabbits is their fur color. These animals have a wide range of colors, from shades of brown to gray, and lighter tones like white and buff.
Some species of rabbits have darker flavors of color as well. The black Amami rabbit, for example, has strikingly black fur making them one of the most sought-after rabbit pets.
Hares have less varied fur colors than rabbits. As animals living out in the wild, their fur tends to blend with their surroundings—a common defense mechanism called cryptic coloration.
Hares adorn white, black, gray, and tan fur, depending on the season. They also have clear, uneven patterns of these colors throughout their bodies, with most having black markings.
Apart from their appearance and color, the anatomy of rabbits and hares are built differently as well. They might look similar, but there are notable differences between their body structures.
For instance, hares have longer and stronger hind legs than rabbits. This feature enables them to run quickly and escape predators in the wild.
Hares also possess a unique skull shape compared to rabbits. The bones on their head have a kinetic feature believed to help absorb impact and vibration as they dash about.
Hares and rabbits are herbivore mammals. It means they consume plants and grasses, though they have different preferences for what they eat.
Rabbits thrive on grasses, vegetables with leafy tops, and hay. The high fiber contents of these types of food are crucial to maintaining their digestive and dental health.
Like rabbits, hares also consume plants and grasses. Their diet primarily consists of leaves, stems, twigs, barks, plant shoots, rhizomes of dry grasses, and even moss.
Apart from green food, hares and rabbits also eat berries. They’d consume blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, bananas, and occasionally, apples.
Both rabbits and hares are known to breed prolifically. These furry animals bear four to eight litters per year—each litter consists of 5 to 12 kittens.
That said, the breeding season of rabbits usually starts in February and through summer. They have a relatively short gestation period of 20 to 33 days, which explains their prolific nature.
Like rabbits, hares also mate between February and September, with some species extending up to August. Their females have a longer gestation period of 40 to 42 days.
Newborn hares, called leverets, are born fully developed (precocial). It means they’re born with fur, eyes open, and completely functional limbs.
Rabbits, on the other hand, are born hairless and blind (altricial). For this reason, kittens would need protection for several months before they can fend for themselves.
Rabbits are social animals living with a few dozen rabbits at a time. This social behavior enables a higher survival rate—watching each other while grazing and sharing body heat in the winter.
Within their colonies, rabbits form social bonds with each other as well. Males fight with other males to dominate others and mate with their group’s females.
On the other hand, hares spend most of their time alone. They only come together in pairs during their mating season to reproduce, so there’s virtually no fighting between these animals.
Now, before you think they’re unsocial, there’s a practical reason why hares do this. Mother hares leave their young leverets alone to prevent predators from noticing them, and they stick to this lifestyle for their survival.
Despite the differences in species, anatomy, and colors, you can usually use bunny, rabbit, and hare interchangeably. Taxonomists can’t seem to make up their minds either—what with Jackrabbits being hares and Belgian hares being rabbits!
That said, there’s no wrong with wanting to clarify what a rabbit, a bunny, or a hare is. So remember: bunnies are young rabbits, while hares are a different species.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard. I also like photographing wild birds, especially birds of prey.