Is it a hare or a rabbit?

Rabbits and hares are closely related and, in many aspects, similar, but they also differ in a number of ways. For example: hares have longer legs and usually longer ears. But the main difference concerns their reproductive and predator escape strategies.

Wild rabbits dig extensive underground burrows in which they shelter and where their young (kits or kittens) are born. The pregnancy of rabbits is relatively short (about 30 days) and newborn rabbits are poorly developed (altricial) – almost naked, with closed eyes and poor coordination.

Hares live above ground and their young are born in a simple shallow hole in the open field or under vegetation. The gestation period for hares is longer (about 40 days). Newborn hares (leverets) are well-developed (precocial) – they are fully covered in fur, their eyes are open and they are capable of coordinated movements.

When scared, short-legged rabbits run (at speeds of up to 45 km/h) to seek refuge in dense cover or in their underground burrows.

The long-legged hares try to outrun their pursuers (reaching speeds up to 72 km/h). When they are disturbed by a predator while in a daytime shelter, they will run into the open.

Photo: European hare and European rabbit

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