If so, you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to clear up the confusion surrounding all of this terminology.
Let’s start with basic nomenclature. Out of bunnies, rabbits, and hares, only two have actual scientific names: rabbits and hares. Both are members of the Leporidae family, a group containing more than 60 species of mammals.
Rabbits and hares are different species, but they share several important characteristics and are still part of the same order of mammal (Lagomorpha). They both have long ears, strong hindquarters, a divided upper lip, and basically eat the same diet. Hares do tend to like hard foods like small twigs and bark, while rabbits prefer grasses, soft stems, and vegetables.
In terms of differences between the two, hares are physically larger than rabbits, with longer hind legs, larger feet, and longer ears with black markings, and rather than burrowing into the ground like rabbits, hares build simple nests in the grass. The only rabbit to build its nest above ground is the cottontail rabbit.
The nature of their respective nesting sites points to another major difference between rabbits and hares. Newborn hares are born precocial, meaning that they’re born fully formed, with their eyes open and covered in hair. This means that baby hares require very little parental care. Rabbits, however, are born altricial, or in other words, helpless. Blind, naked, and unable to fend for themselves, newborn rabbits require a great deal of parental attention, and their vulnerable state is why they nest in more protected dens underground.
Rabbits are also more often domesticated; pet rabbits can be very social animals. Hares are usually happiest solo in the wild.
Finally, on a genetic level, hares have 48 chromosomes and rabbits have 44.
Up until the 18th century, rabbits were called “coneys.” The term came from the French word cunil, a derivative of the Latin word cuniculus (a term meaning rabbit or burrow).
If you’re thinking the word coney sounds familiar, you’re right. It was the inspiration for the name bestowed on New York’s famed beachside community and amusement park: Coney Island (or Rabbit Island). The word “rabbit” was initially used to describe the offspring of coneys, but eventually the term surpassed coney in popular usage and took over.
The word “hare” is believed to derive from either the West Germanic word khasan or the Dutch word hase, meaning gray.
Now that we’ve covered rabbits and hares, let’s talk about bunnies. A bunny is not a species. It is simply a term of endearment with a long history.
According to Dictionary.com, beginning sometime in the early 17th century, the word “bunny” was used to refer to a young girl. The word bunny itself could be a derivative of the Scottish word bun (rabbit, squirrel, tail of a hare) or from the French word bon (good). Gradually, the term bunny expanded to describe not just young female humans, but also young and/or small animals. Nowadays, it generally refers to a baby rabbit.
And there you have it. Now, armed with appropriate scientific and etymological knowledge, you can use all three terms with confidence and flare. Trivia night, here you come!
Did you learn something new? Let us know in the comments section!
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