Hares are different than rabbits

Posted: Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hares and rabbits are closely related, but there are no native rabbits in Alaska, just hares. There are some domestic (European) rabbits in Alaska, and rabbits were introduced to Middleton Island in the Gulf of Alaska, where a population has become established. In most of Alaska, where rabbits have escaped captivity or been introduced, they have not survived in the wild - they are very vulnerable to predators, and are outcompeted by the wild hares.

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There are a few important distinctions between hares and rabbits. Hares tend to be bigger than rabbits, with longer legs and longer ears. These differences are obvious when comparing snowshoe hares and jackrabbits (which are actually hares) to cottontail rabbits. Rabbits also dig burrows and hares do not - they live out in the open.

Hares are precocial - meaning they are born almost independent. They're born fully furred with their eyes open, they can hop around almost as soon as their fur is dry, and can leave the nest in just a few days. They do nurse for a few weeks, but they're also eating grasses and green plants. Rabbits are altricial - they are born helpless and need lots of parental care. Baby rabbits are born naked, deaf and blind, and like puppies or kittens, their eyes don't open for a week or so.

Hares, rabbits and pikas are often called rodents, but they are not rodents, they're lagomorphs. Rodents are very different from hares and rabbits - they have different teeth, and they evolved from different ancestors. Lagomorphs have four upper incisors, and rodents have just two. Hares and rabbits chew with a sideways motion, because of their teeth structure. Their digestive systems are also significantly different than rodents'.

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