What’s the Difference Between a Bunny, Rabbit, and Hare?

Bunnies, rabbits, and hares – oh my! At first glance these fuzzy, long-eared creatures seem awfully similar. But surprises await those who take a closer look at the differences between these iconic animals. What sets bunnies apart from their kin? How are rabbits and hares truly distinct species? From their adorable babies to ingenious survival tactics to the mysteries of their origins, rabbits captivate us. Get ready to hop down the rabbit hole and discover what makes rabbits tick, how “bunny” became their nickname, and what really tells a hare apart. Whether pets or woodland dwellers, these animals have mastered the art of being cute and quick. Let’s explore the world of rabbits!

Bunny vs. Rabbit

The terms "bunny" and "rabbit" are often used interchangeably, but there are some differences between the two. While both refer to the same species of small, furry, long-eared mammals with short tails, "bunny" is more often used to describe baby rabbits, while "rabbit" refers to the grown adults.

The word "bunny" originated as a term of endearment or affection for rabbits. It likely derives from the Scottish word "bunne" meaning rabbit. The first known use of "bunny" was in the 16th century. Since then, "bunny" has become associated with cuteness and youth, making it a fitting name for baby rabbits. Grown rabbits are less likely to be called "bunnies" unless they are petite in size.

Some key differences between bunnies and rabbits:

  • Size: Bunnies are smaller, usually under 1 year old. Rabbits are larger, fully grown adults.

  • Appearance: Bunnies tend to have proportionally larger heads, feet, and eyes compared to the rest of their body. Rabbits have more slender proportions.

  • Behavior: Bunnies are known for jumping, hopping, and frolicking. Rabbits exhibit more mature behaviors like digging, foraging for food, and nesting behaviors.

  • Care: Bunnies require extra gentle care and affection. Rabbits still need daily care but are more independent as adults.

  • Terminology: In scientific contexts, "bunny" is rarely used. The proper term for the species is "rabbit." But in casual conversation, bunny remains a popular term.

While related, bunny and rabbit are not quite interchangeable due to their age and developmental differences. But both words refer to the same cuddly, charming animal that holds a special place in many people's hearts.

Where did the word “bunny” come from?

The origin of the word "bunny" can be traced back to the 16th century in Scotland. Here are some of the leading theories about where this cuddly term was derived from:

  • Diminutive of "bun": Bun was a Scottish word meaning "rabbit" or "squirrel" that dates back to the 14th century. Adding -ny or -ie to the end of words was a common way to create an endearing version. So "bunny" may have originated as a cutsie variant of "bun."

  • Derived from "bunne": In the 16th century, the word "bunne" also existed in Scottish as another term for rabbit. Adding the -y to the end could have formed "bunny."

  • Rhyming with "coney": Coney was another old English word for rabbit. Rhyming slang like "bunny coney" may have led to "bunny" sticking as a rhyme for rabbit.

  • Reference to rabbit tails: Some sources speculate "bunny" arose from a reference to the powder puff tail of rabbits, similar to a bun or ball of fur. However, this is less likely as an origin.

  • Regression of "rabbit": Young children often shortened "rabbit" to "bunny" as an easier way to say the word. This regression then spread as a nickname.

While the precise origin remains uncertain, the use of "bunny" as an endearing term for rabbits was well established in English by the 17th century. The word reflected the affection people had for these soft, cuddly creatures. Its use endures today in contexts ranging from children's books to chocolate Easter bunnies.

Rabbit vs. Hare

At first glance, rabbits and hares appear nearly identical. But there are several notable differences between the two species:

  • Size: Hares are generally larger and have longer hind legs and ears than rabbits. Rabbits are smaller and have shorter legs.

  • Habitat: Rabbits live in burrows underground, while hares live in simple nests above ground. Rabbits prefer dense vegetation while hares like open areas.

  • Behavior: Rabbits are quiet, docile, and social. Hares are fast-moving, solitary, and skittish. Rabbits live in warrens together while hares don't.

  • Diet: Rabbits are herbivores who eat grasses, vegetables, and bark. Hares eat similar foods but also feed on twigs, buds, and crops in agricultural areas.

  • Babies: Baby rabbits are called kittens and are born blind and hairless. Baby hares are called leverets and are born fully developed with fur and eyes open.

  • Taxonomy: Rabbits and hares belong to different genus/species entirely. Rabbits are of the genus Oryctolagus while hares belong to Lepus genus.

  • Appearance: Up close, hares have black-tipped ears and divided upper lips, while rabbits have uniform ears and upper lips.

So while quite similar at first glance, rabbits and hares have distinct differences in their biology, behavior, appearance, and habitat that make them separate species. Understanding the distinction helps clear up confusion between the two.


Rabbits can adapt to a variety of habitats, though they prefer areas that provide both food and shelter sources. Here are some of the habitats favored by rabbits:

  • Grasslands: Rabbits thrive in open meadows, fields, and grassy areas where they can hide in vegetation and find plenty of grasses and plants to eat.

  • Forest edges: The transition zones between forests and open areas provide cover as well as food sources. Rabbits stick to the edges.

  • Marshes: Wetland areas like marshes have dense low-lying vegetation where rabbits can hide. Reeds and grasses provide food.

  • Gardens and parks: Rabbits will readily make themselves at home in vegetable gardens, flower beds, and landscaped parks.

  • Farmland: Croplands and pastures offer an abundance of food sources attractive to rabbits. Fallow fields and drainage ditches provide cover.

  • Desert scrublands: In arid climates, rabbits seek areas with patches of brush, shrubs, and succulent plants. Burrows provide shelter from the heat.

  • Mountain forests: Rabbits live at higher mountain elevations within forest meadows and areas of low-growing bushes and shrubs.

  • Backyards: Rabbits have adapted well to suburban areas and can establish burrows and nests in brush piles, woodpiles, and gardens.

Rabbits generally prefer habitats with a mix of vegetation for food and hiding spots to evade predators. They can thrive in diverse environments by finding these key features.


Baby rabbits are called kittens or kits. Here are some key facts about bunny kittens:

  • Litter size: A healthy adult female rabbit will give birth to a litter of 4-12 kittens. Larger rabbit breeds tend to have larger litters.

  • Birth: Kittens are born hairless, blind, and deaf after a gestation period of 30-32 days. Mothers carefully fur-line a nest in preparation.

  • Appearance: Newborn kits weigh just 2-4 ounces. They have closed ear canals and sealed eyes that will open at 10-14 days old.

  • Care: Rabbit mothers nurse kits for just 5 minutes a day. The rest of the time the kittens huddle together for warmth in the nest.

  • Weaning: Kittens are weaned from nursing at around 4-5 weeks old and emerge from the nest shortly after. This is a crucial period of socialization.

  • Growth: Kittens grow rapidly, reaching adult size by 12 weeks old. Their permanent coat grows in around 8 weeks. Lifespan is 8-12 years.

  • Independence: Kits reach sexual maturity by 4-6 months old. Rabbits are solitary animals and young adults leave to establish new territories.

  • Habits: Curious, playful kittens practice hopping and bounding. Personality emerges early on. Some are shy, others outgoing and assertive.

  • Terminology: "Kittens" can describe rabbits from birth up to 12 weeks old. After weaning, they are referred to as "juniors" until reaching adult size.

The baby bunny growth and development process unfolds rapidly. With proper care by the mother and breeder, kits transform quickly into juveniles and adults.


Rabbits are herbivores that thrive on a diet primarily composed of hay, grasses, vegetables, and some fruit. Here are some key components of proper rabbit nutrition:

  • Hay: Unlimited timothy or grass hay should form the bulk of a rabbit's diet. They continuously gnaw on hay for roughage.

  • Greens: Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, lettuce, cilantro, arugula, and broccoli leaves are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals.

  • Pellets: A measured daily amount of plain pellets provides balanced protein and nutrients. This should be limited to no more than 1/4 cup per day.

  • Vegetables: Carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber, zucchini, and other veggies provide beneficial variety in moderation.

  • Fruit: Slices of apple, banana, melon and berries can be given as occasional treats in small quantities.

  • Water: Fresh clean water must be available at all times. Change water daily.

  • Treats: Dried fruit, herbs, twigs and store-bought treats should only be given in very limited amounts.

  • No: Avoid processed foods, grains, seeds, nuts, corn, beans, dairy, meat, and sugary/starchy foods.

Following these guidelines keeps rabbits healthy and prevents digestive upset and obesity. Provide plenty of hay every day along with measured portions of fresh veggies and pellets. Always introduce new foods gradually.


Rabbits have a unique anatomy that allows them to hop, dig, and thrive as prey animals. Key features include:

  • Hind legs: Strong back legs with elongated feet adapted for fast hopping, jumping, and sprinting.

  • Front paws: Smaller front paws designed for digging, grasping food, and finer movements.

  • Ears: Extra-large, upright ears with impressive hearing ability to detect predators. Ears help regulate temperature too.

  • Eyes: Large eyes positioned on sides of head give nearly 360-degree vision to watch for threats.

  • Tail: Small, short, fluffy tail that twitches to signal danger. Also used for communication between rabbits.

  • Teeth: Distinctive long incisor teeth that grow continuously and must be worn down by gnawing.

  • Digestion: Specialized digestive tract allows rabbits to extract nutrients from fibrous plant diet.

  • Fur: Coat with dense underfur layer provides insulation from heat and cold. Molts seasonally.

  • Senses: Excellent hearing, vision, smell, and whiskers to detect stimuli in environment.

  • Reproduction: Highly effective reproductive ability lets rabbits produce many offspring.

This anatomy supports the rabbit's status as a highly evolved prey species well adapted to evade predators and thrive in a variety of environments.

Hiders and runners

Rabbits have two main defenses against predators: hiding and running. Their anatomy and behavior reflect adaptations for both strategies.

As hiders, rabbits rely on their fur coloration and ability to remain unseen:

  • Camouflaged fur blends into environment, breaking up the body outline.

  • Freezing reflex makes them motionless when scared so they don't attract attention.

  • Spending most of their time in shelters like burrows reduces exposure.

  • Nesting in depressions in the ground or brush provides cover.

  • Activity concentrated at dusk, dawn, or night when harder to be spotted.

As runners, rabbits have speed and agility on their side:

  • Powerful hind legs propel them to speeds over 20 mph.

  • Zig-zag and irregular movement patterns help evade pursuers.

  • Sharp turns, jumps, and kicks with hind feet help them to break free.

  • Dodging into burrows or dense vegetation foils predators.

  • Wild thrashing scratched predators with sharp claws.

  • Endurance sustains sprints over longer distances.

Through these adaptations, rabbits are prepared to either hide from or sprint away from danger. This combination helps ensure their survival in the wild. Domestic rabbits retain these instincts even when predators are not a threat.


Rabbits shed their fur coats approximately every 3 months as the seasons change. Here's what to know about rabbit shedding:

  • Molting: Old fur is shed in large clumps as rabbits molt into a new coat adapted to warmer or colder weather.

  • Schedule: Heavy shedding occurs in spring, late summer, and winter. Lighter shedding happens in early summer and fall.

  • Amount: Rabbits can shed surprising amounts of fur – upwards of a couple handfuls per day when molting heavily.

  • Help speed shedding: Regular brushing helps remove loose hairs and speeds up the molting process.

  • Tufts: Shedding often leaves comical tufts of fur dangling from rabbits as their coat thins out.

  • Ingestion: Rabbits may ingest a lot of loose fur while self-grooming. This can cause dangerous blockages.

  • Flystrike: Wet molting fur can attract flies to lay eggs. Monitor rabbits closely during shedding season.

  • Messy! Rabbits leave trails of fur bits all around as they shed. Vacuum and sweep regularly to stay on top of it.

While shedding can be messy and time consuming to manage, it is healthy and necessary. Be vigilant for potential health issues and ready for added brushing and clean-up during your rabbit's molt.

Group living

In the wild, rabbits are solitary animals that do not live in organized social groups or colonies. However, some elements of group living can be observed:

  • Shared territory: Groups of rabbits may occupy the same general territory without territorial conflict.

  • Tolerance: Rabbits are tolerant of other rabbits as long as competition for resources is minimal.

  • Nest sharing: Female rabbits may tolerate the presence of other nursing mothers in a communal burrow.

  • Bachelor groups: Young male rabbits often form loose bachelor groups sharing the same habitat.

  • Courtship groups: Receptive female rabbits may gather in the same area to attract interested males.

  • Does and kits: Mother rabbits share warrens with their dependent young offspring.

  • Colonies: True rabbit colonies with complex social structures are rare outside of domestic settings.

While not colony animals per se, rabbits do engage in various types of loose groupings and sharing of space. Their basic tolerance allows for temporary gatherings, even if they ultimately remain solitary.

In summary, while rabbits and bunnies share many traits, bunnies are specifically the babies of the species. The origin of the word "bunny" can be traced back to 16th century Scotland as a term of endearment. While similar in appearance, rabbits and hares have distinct differences in terms of habitat, diet, babies, and taxonomy.

Wild rabbits are well suited to hiding and running to survive in the wild. They prefer habitats that provide both food sources and hiding spots. Baby rabbits are called kittens and require close care by their mothers early on.

With a herbivorous diet focused on hay and greens, specialized anatomy and senses, and the ability to live in loose groups when resources permit, rabbits are remarkably adapted for thriving in many environments. Their cute appearance and behaviors also make them popular pets and symbols, ensuring their place in human culture.


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