Rabbits and Hares

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There are only two species of "lagomorphs" or rabbits common in the San Francisco Bay region: the brush rabbit -- a true rabbit -- and the black-tailed jackrabbit or hare. And while rabbits do look a lot like rats and, in fact, share a common ancestor, there's one major difference. All rodents have only two front incisors, but rabbits not only have the two obvious buck teeth but also have two smaller teeth right behind.

Hares are generally larger than true rabbits and have extremely prominent ears. During the breeding season males can get quite aggressive with each other, stand up on their hind legs and box. This belligerence gave rise to the expression "mad as a march hare." After a gestation of 22 days they find a hidden spot, but not a den, and give birth to precocial young. Their kits come out eyes open, fully furred and ready to hop.

The large ears are not only perfect for hearing potential enemies but also act as efficient cooling fins. The black tailed jackrabbit survives anywhere there is grass and cover -- from the coast into the Central Valley, way up into the Sierra and even in the California deserts. They can leap 18 feet and zip at 35 miles per hour. No wonder Wily Coyote has a hard time catching them!

True rabbits, like our brush rabbit, are smaller with shorter ears. They find a den made by other creatures and line it with fur. Their babes are altricial, that is borne blind, naked and helpless. Brush rabbits thrive mostly in the chaparral of California, Oregon and Washington. Rabbits are also infamous for their reproductive fecundity and extreme sexual activity, thus the somewhat sexist derivation of Playboy bunnies.

All rabbits are confirmed vegetarians and known for a disgusting but very efficient way of garnering all the nutrients from their diet. They defecate two different kind of pellets; hard ones and soft ones. The soft ones still have many goodies left in them so they eat those and run them through again. The scientific name for this behavior is copraphagy -- poop eaters.
I guess this piece on rabbits was not such a harebrained scheme after all.  


This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.