Dr. Universe explains bunnies

Ask Dr. Universe is a science-education column from Washington State University.

  • Thursday, January 3, 2019 1:26pm
  • Life
Illustrations by Rob McClurkan

Illustrations by Rob McClurkan

Dear Dr. Universe. My favorite animal is a bunny. I want to know more about it. How fast does a bunny hop? How long does a bunny live? Can a bunny swim? How many babies does a bunny have? -Rueben, 7, Pennsylvania

Dear Rueben,

Bunnies are hopping all over our planet. Some hop through snow and deserts while others hop through wetlands and woods. There are lots of different kinds of rabbits and they are all a little different. For the most part, a bunny hops, or actually runs, anywhere between 25 and 45 mph That’s even faster than most housecats can run.

Rabbits are related to another group of animals called hares. Actually, rabbits and hares are in the same family, Leporidae. Hares look a lot like rabbits, but they have much bigger ears and bigger feet. European hares and jack rabbits, which are also hares, can run upwards of 45 mph. They have long, strong legs that help give them hopping power.

That’s what I found out from my friend Paul Jensen, a graduate student researcher at Washington State University. He studies snowshoe hares in northcentral Washington state to learn more about populations in the wild. While rabbits and hares have their differences, they do have a few things in common.

Both hares and rabbits have quite a few babies in their lifetimes. Hares are born in nests above ground. They are born with their eyes open and a body that’s totally covered in hair. They don’t require a lot of supervision from their parents. Hares have about 1 to 8 babies in each litter and sometimes they can produce four litters in one year. That’s a lot of baby hares, or as biologists call them, “leverets.”

Rabbits are born with their eyes closed, no fur, and no ability to manage their own temperature. They need more parental supervision to survive in the wild and especially to stay warm in the burrows where they live. While bunnies can hop around, some can also swim in water. They don’t always seem to like the water very much, though—not too unlike us cats.

Rabbits also have a lot of babies—anywhere from one to 14 in a litter. A baby rabbit is called a kit, which is short for kitten, which is also what they called me when I was young. In the company of humans who keep them as pets, some rabbits will grow to be about 8 years old. Rabbits can live for one or two years in the wild. Meanwhile, some hares, like the Arctic hare, can live to be about 3 to 5 years old.

The American Rabbit Breeders Association recognizes 49 different breeds of rabbits. On the organization’s website, you can learn about all kinds of rabbits from the American fuzzylop and the lionhead to the crème d’ argent and cinnamon. Have you seen any bunnies hopping around your neighborhood lately? Tell us about it sometime at Dr.Universe@wsu.edu.

Sincerely,

Dr. Universe

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