Rabbit versus hare: how to tell what you're looking at
They may look similar, but there are stark differences that are evident right from birth
Now that the weather has warmed, wild hares are scurrying through Calgary, leaping through fields and munching on now-green grass — or are those rabbits?
The fact is, it can be hard to tell. Even they way they're named is confusing. Alberta's native white-tailed jackrabbit is actually a hare. Go figure.
Alberta has three native species of lagomorphs, the scientific order that encompasses rabbits and hares. They are the cottontail rabbit, the snowshoe hare and the aforementioned white-tailed jackrabbit.
All three are strictly herbivores with long ears, short tails and larger feet designed for jumping. That's about where the similarities end.
Rabbit babies — also called kits, kittens or bunnies — are born blind and without fur.
"They really depend on their parents or a social group to care for them," said Brett Boukall, senior wildlife biologist with the province.
Baby hares — also known as leverets — are born covered in fur and with the ability to see, making them able to fend for themselves right from the outset.
In general, bunnies are smaller and slower than hares, who have larger ears and feet and stronger hind legs.
The white creatures you see skittering around in winter are hares, not wild rabbits.
Both animals moult throughout the year, but Alberta's native rabbits stay brown or grey year-round, whereas wild hares gradually turn white as winter approaches.
"Both the whitetail jackrabbit and the snowshoe hare depend on that colour change to help them blend in," Boukall explained.
"The cottontail, because it stays close to thickets in the prairie bottoms, doesn't really need to change its fur colour as often, because brown tends to help it blend in better."
Rabbits live primarily in colonies, while hares live a more solitary life, coming together only to pair or mate.
Rabbits also burrow and build their nests underground, whereas hares build nests above ground.
"You never find them, because as soon as they're born, they're gone," Boukall said, referring to hare nests.
|Birth||Born blind, without fur||Born with ability to see, covered in fur|
|Size||Smaller ears, weaker hind legs||Larger in general, with stronger hind legs, bigger ears and feet|
|Nesting||Tend to burrow, babies are born underground||Do not burrow, build nests above ground|
|Social behaviour||Live in colonies, more social||Live a more solitary life, only meeting to pair or mate|