What's the difference between a rabbit and a hare?

December 4, 2014, 1 p.m.

Is it a rabbit or a hare?

Though we may think rabbits and hares are the same thing, they are quite different and are one of those commonly confused animals. Rabbits and hares are in the same family but are different genera. The differences are mainly apparent through their size, build and food preferences. Hares are overall bigger than rabbits, and have longer back legs. They have a wiry, rangy appearance compared to rabbits, which have a rounder, fluff-ball shape. Also, hares have longer ears, and usually have black markings on the tips of the ears.

In winter, the difference between the two is even more apparent. Rabbit species usually shift from a brown coat color in the summer to grey in the winter. Hare species, on the other hand, typically change from brown to a snow-white coat in the winter, particularly species living in cold regions.

Rabbits have burrows in which to hide and raise their young (with the exception of the cottontail rabbit), whereas hares take shelter under brush and shrubs and have simple nests above ground for their litters. Rabbits tend to live in groups while hares are loners living solitary lives except when finding a mate. Also, rabbits feast on softer greens (hence the gardener's frustration with them) while hares eat harder food including bark, buds and small twigs.

And in case you're curious, the critter shown above is a European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.