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Rabbit Facts

Cottontail in green leaves
Cottontail rabbit

With their long ears, twitching noses, hopping feet, and furry bodies, rabbits are among the favorite animals of kids everywhere. But even though rabbits are found all over the world, most people don’t know very much about them. They share our gardens, parks, and woodlands, but they remain a bit of a mystery. Let’s find out more.

Rabbit Basics

Rabbits are mammals belonging to the scientific order called Lagomorpha, which also includes hares and pikas. Like all mammals, rabbits are warm-blooded, give birth to live young, produce milk for their babies, and have fur. Rabbits were once considered to be rodents, but in the 20th century scientists began to classify them as a separate order.

Cottontail on hind legs

Rabbits have long ears that can grow up to 4 inches (10 cm) long. They have powerful hind legs, whiskers, and a short tail that is often a small puff of fur. Their color may be brown, gray, or beige, and their fur is long and soft. Rabbits move by jumping, pushing off with their strong hind legs and using their forelimbs to soften the impact on landing. They can use their hind legs to jump as high as 3 feet (1 meter) in the air and to leap forward as far as 8-10 feet (2.5 meters) in one jump.

Rabbits are found on every continent except Antarctica. More than half of the world’s rabbits live in North America. All rabbits are ground dwellers, but different species have adapted to live in environments ranging from deserts, grasslands, and wetlands to temperate, tropical, and boreal forests.

Most rabbits are social creatures who live in groups called colonies. In the wild, many rabbits make their homes in underground burrows that they dig. A group of burrows is called a warren, where many rabbits live together in a system with tunnels, rooms for nesting and sleeping, and several entrances. Warrens can be as deep as 10 feet (3 meters) underground. Some types of rabbits do not dig burrows but rather use existing tunnels left by other animals, while others live primarily above ground.

two rabbits in burrow

All rabbits are herbivores. They eat grasses, herbs, seeds, leaves and flowers -- as well as vegetables from people’s gardens! A rabbit’s teeth never stop growing. They are worn down as the rabbit chews on bark or twigs, so they don’t get too long. Unlike rodents, rabbits have two pairs of incisor teeth, one set behind the other.

Rabbits groom themselves just as cats do. They lick their paws and use them to clean their faces and ears. With their tongues, they clean the rest of their fur. Rabbits also groom each other, with the most dominant rabbit receiving more grooming.


Jackrabbit antelope
Antelope jackrabbit

Hares are not rabbits, although they too belong to the order Lagomorpha. There are about 30 species of hares in the world. Hares are bigger than rabbits and have longer ears. Like rabbits, they move by jumping with their strong hind legs, but hares have longer legs and can take bigger jumps. Hares are very fast; they can run up to 45 miles per hour (72 km/hr) and leap up to 12 feet (3.6 m) at a time. They live above the ground, rather than in underground warrens or burrows. While most rabbits prefer to live together among woods or shrubbery where they can easily hide, hares usually live solitary lives in open spaces such as prairies or deserts. Unlike rabbits, hares have not been domesticated.

One of the best-known hares is the jackrabbit, which is not a rabbit at all. Black-tailed jackrabbits are common in the western United States. One of the largest hares is the antelope jackrabbit of the southwestern deserts, with ears up to 7 inches (18 cm) long and back legs up to 12 inches (30 cm) long.

Far from the desert, the Arctic hare lives in the icy tundra of the far north and weighs up to 12 pounds (5.5 kg.) Snowshoe hares, who live in cold boreal forests, change color with the seasons. In winter they have white fur to blend in with the snow, and in summer they turn brown for camouflage. Their long, wide feet make it easy to leap across snow. In fact, a racing snowshoe hare could jump the length of two beds laid end-to-end!

Snowshoe hare
Snowshoe hare (photo courtesy of National Park Service)

Kinds of Rabbits

Gray cottontail on gravel
Gray cottontail rabbit
Pygmy rabbit
Pygmy rabbit

There are 29 species of wild rabbits, with the best-known being the European rabbit and several species of cottontail rabbits found in North and South America. Cottontails, the most common rabbits in the United States, are identified by fluffy white fur on the tail. In addition to wild rabbits, the American Rabbit Breeds Association (SRBA) currently recognizes 49 breeds of domesticated rabbits that people keep as pets.

Flemish giant rabbit
Flemish giant rabbit

Rabbits come in a wide range of sizes. An average adult wild rabbit is about 14-18 inches (40 cm) long and weighs 2-4 pounds (1-1.5 kg.) Pygmy rabbits are only about 8-9 inches (23 cm) long and weigh less than a pound (0.4 kg), even when fully grown. Large rabbits, ranging from 12-25 pounds in weight, are usually domestic breeds rather than wild rabbits. The largest rabbits are a breed called Flemish giants, which are about 3 feet long (0.9 meter) and weigh about 25 pounds (11 kg). A rabbit named Darius holds the world record for the world’s largest bunny, measuring 4 feet 3 inches long (129 cm) and weighing 49 pounds (22 kg.)

Although rabbits are found all over the world, different kinds of rabbits are suited for the different environments in which they live. The swamp rabbit of Missouri, the largest of all cottontail species, is able to swim well through swamps and marshes. The striped rabbits of Indonesia and Laos have brown, black and yellow stripes that help them hide in their tropical jungle home. The Arctic hare, which lives in cold northern Canada, has shorter ears to reduce heat loss.

Lop eared rabbit
Lop-eared domestic rabbit

Domestic rabbits can be bred for all kinds of colors, sizes, and body types, but all pet rabbits are descendants of European rabbits. There are many breeds that do not look much like their wild cousins. Lop-eared rabbits have ears that hang down, rather than stand up. Lionhead rabbits have a mane around their head. Learn more about rabbit breeds.

Rabbit Life Cycle

Rabbit babies in nest
Rabbit babies (Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

A male rabbit is called a buck, and a female is called a doe. A baby rabbit is known as a kit or kitten. Before giving birth, the mother rabbit builds a fur-lined nest in a shallow, hidden hole. The kits are born blind and hairless, totally dependent on their mother. They open their eyes when they are about 10 days old, and are able to care for themselves when they are about 4-6 weeks old. By the time they are 3-4 months old, they are ready to have babies of their own.

Baby hares, on the other hand, are born with fur and good vision, and are ready to hop around within hours of their birth. Mother hares do not use burrows for their young but make a nest on the ground. The mother hare often leaves the babies, called leverets, alone during the day so as not to attract predators, returning only to quickly feed them.

Rabbits can have a lot of babies! There may be 6-12 kits in each litter, and the mother may have 3-4 litters each year. It is possible for a female to have 50-60 kits, and up to 800 descendants, in one year! But many of the young rabbits do not survive their first year due to predators and disease. The life span of a wild rabbit is typically just a few years. Rabbits are an important part of the food web in their habitat areas, and natural predators help keep rabbit numbers in balance so that a healthy ecosystem does not become overrun with rabbits.

Rabbit Defenses

Rabbits are prey animals animals. They are hunted by coyotes, foxes, owls, hawks, eagles, weasels, bobcats, wolves, snakes, and even dogs and cats. But rabbits and hares have ways of detecting and evading predators that keep them from becoming another animal’s dinner. They have specialized senses and adaptations for survival.

Jackrabbit with sun shining through ears

A rabbit’s long ears are designed for excellent hearing. Rabbits can detect sounds up to 2 miles (3 km) away. They have directional hearing, which means they can tell exactly where a sound is coming from. Their ears can swivel and move independently from each other, so they can monitor different noises at the same time. Each ear is able to rotate up to 270º without moving any other body part. Rabbits always know when something is coming.

Rabbits’ ears also help them regulate their body temperature. The ears’ large surface area contains a network of blood vessels that expand on hot days to give off heat, and contract in cold weather to retain heat. Rabbits and hares that live in hotter climates tend to have bigger ears, as they need a larger surface area to release more heat.

Cottontail rabbit hiding
Cottontail rabbit (photo courtesy of National Park Service)

Rabbits’ eyes are on the sides of their head, allowing them to see almost all the way around them. With an almost 360º view of their surroundings, they can see what’s happening behind them without turning their heads. Rabbits only blink 10 times an hour, and can even sleep with their eyes open.

Rabbit hiding
Rabbit hiding

In addition to their specialized ears and eyes that help them detect danger, rabbits, and hares have other defense techniques they use once a predator has spotted them. Their main defense is their ability to run away quickly. Hares are very speedy, which is important in their open habitats. Hares usually try to outrun their attackers, while rabbits dart quickly to the nearest hiding place. They head for the safety of their burrows or to thick bushes, brambles or rock crevices where predators cannot follow. When cottontail rabbits run away from a predator, they run in a zigzag pattern that confuses the attacker and gives the rabbit more time to get away. Another way they confuse predators is with their tail. They can flash their white tail to distract a predator, then quickly hide their tail and change direction.

When a rabbit is faced with danger and there is no cover nearby, it may “freeze” and remain completely still. Predators tend to be attracted to moving prey, so a frozen rabbit with a camouflage coat may not be detected. Another helpful adaptation is that rabbits are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active at dusk and dawn. The low light allows them to hide from predators as they venture out to find food.

Rabbit Communication

Jackrabbit by dirt and grass

You may not think that rabbits communicate because they are such quiet animals. Rabbits do make soft noises, such as grunting to indicate “back off.” But they primarily communicate using their body language.

Jackrabbit with straight back ears

Rabbits communicate quite a bit through their ears. When a rabbit is on alert, its ears will stick straight up. A rabbit that is listening intently will have its ears pointed in the direction of the curious noise. A scared or threatened rabbit will pull its ears straight back. A relaxed rabbit’s ears will droop or lay back gently on its body.

When rabbits are feeling safe, they flop down on their side. When they are worried, they clench their facial muscles. When they are happy, rabbits may binky, where they leap, twist, and sometimes rotate in mid-air. When a male and female rabbit are courting, one may jump up in the air while the other runs back and forth beneath them. When one rabbit wants to warn another of danger, it will thump its foot. Learn more about rabbit body language.

Rabbits and Humans

Girl with pet rabbit

Rabbits have a long history with humans. They have been hunted for their meat and fur, raised on farms, and kept as pets. Rabbits often appear in stories, cartoons, and folklore. You may be familiar with Peter Rabbit, the Easter Bunny, Bugs Bunny or the Velveteen Rabbit. For many children, toy rabbits are favorite stuffed animals. In some cultures, rabbits are a symbol of good luck, kindness, and new beginnings.

domestic black and white rabbit  kiddle
Champion Show Rabbit (Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Many people enjoy domestic rabbits as pets. Rabbits are the third most popular pet in the United States, after cats and dogs. Pet rabbits are described as intelligent, playful, clean, social and curious. In the United States alone, there are as many as 5 million pet rabbits. Domestic rabbits live much longer than wild rabbits, with a life span of 10-12 years. Pet rabbits can be adorable companions and a lot of fun, but they must receive proper care to keep them healthy and happy. Learn more about pet rabbits.

Rabbit meat is a significant source of protein in many cultures, and rabbit farms are common in Europe and Asia. Some people raise rabbits to show or exhibit at fairs or competitions, where prizes are awarded for the best rabbit in a particular category. Rabbits have also been used in medical research to help develop antibodies that fight infectious diseases.

Humans have caused problems when they have introduced rabbits into areas where they are not native. In 1859, 13 European rabbits were brought to Australia, where they are not a native species. Due to their rapid reproduction and the lack of predators in Australia, rabbits quickly spread throughout the continent. Their numbers became so large that they soon destroyed crops and degraded the land, causing soil erosion and threatening native plants and animal species. It is estimated that 200 million invasive rabbits inhabit Australia. As a result, there have been ongoing efforts to limit rabbit populations there.

Rabbit Conservation

Although many species of rabbits and hares are plentiful, nearly half of the world’s rabbit species are endangered or close to extinction. Endangered rabbits include the Amami rabbit of Japan, the riverine rabbit of South Africa, and the volcano rabbit of Mexico. Even the European rabbit has become scarce in its native habitat of Spain and southern France, which in turn threatens natural predators such as lynx.

One of the most common threats to rabbit populations is loss of habitat. Activities such as logging, agriculture, road construction, and urban development destroy the natural habitat of rabbits and hares. Other threats are frequent forest fires and non-native predator species such as mongooses and feral cats.

New England Cottontail
New England cottontail

In the northeast area of the United States, the New England cottontail rabbit has become rare due to habitat loss. By 2015, the rabbit’s historic range had shrunk by 75%. In recent years, more of the shrubland-thicket habitat these rabbits require has been protected, and breeding programs have begun to re-introduce the New England cottontails to their native range.

Columbia Basin pygmy
Columbia Basin pygmy

The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, the smallest rabbit in North America, is also critically endangered due to habitat loss. In 2001, scientists estimated there were less than 50 rabbits left. This little rabbit needs undisturbed sagebrush habitat to survive, but 80% of that habitat in eastern Washington has been lost to farming, urban development, and fires. Groups of scientists and citizens have worked hard to restore some of the lost habitat and to re-establish colonies of pygmy rabbits in the area.

Maintaining healthy rabbit populations is important, because rabbits play a critical role in the ecosystems where they live. They control invasive weeds, disperse seeds, enrich soil, promote plant diversity, provide nest sites for ground-dwelling animals, and supply food for predators. In some areas, rabbits are considered a “keystone species” that is crucial to the survival of other organisms.

Wildlife biologists who specialize in studying rabbits work in many ways to help keep rabbit populations healthy. Meet some of them and learn about the work they are doing in Connecticut, Washington, and Idaho.

Fun Facts About Rabbits

cottontail in green grass
  • Like cats, rabbits purr when they are content and relaxed. They grind their teeth together to make the purring sound.
  • Rabbits eat their own excrement (poop) to get additional nutrition that may have passed through their digestive system.
  • Contrary to Bugs Bunny cartoons, carrots aren’t a natural part of a rabbit’s diet. They contain too much sugar for rabbits to digest well.
  • Rabbits cannot vomit. The muscles of the esophagus can move food in only one direction.
  • There is an island in Japan called Bunny Island, where over 1,000 rabbits live. Tourists can visit, but no other animals are allowed on the island.
  • Rabbits can be litter-box trained and are capable of learning tricks. In Europe, there are even rabbit sports where they jump over hurdles and run agility courses.