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Bunny vs. Rabbit: Is There a Difference?

One brown rabbit beside one grey rabbit, both with long floppy ears
Are we looking at two bunnies? One rabbit and one bunny? What's the difference? GK Hart/Vikki Hart / Getty Images

Have you ever gotten in an argument over whether that furry animal with floppy ears is a bunny vs. rabbit? People often use the words "bunny" and "rabbit" interchangeably when referring to the cute creatures within the family Leporidae. But are they really the same thing?

Yes! As it turns out, both terms are correct since they are just different names for the same animal. The term "bunny" is more colloquial and informal, while the word "rabbit" is more scientific and formal. Read on for more clarification when it comes to which name you should use when.

What Is a Bunny?

You can trace the origin of the term "bunny" back to the historical use of "bun" as a simple and even cute way of referring to a rabbit. Over time, this endearing nickname became widely adopted, especially when referring to a young rabbit or a small or baby rabbit.

Despite the informal nature of "bunny," both terms accurately describe the same animal. (This means that, yes, a person can just as easily call the Easter bunny the Easter rabbit!) Some people might even use both terms at once, declaring the animal a "bunny rabbit" or a "rabbit bunny."

While the word "rabbit" is the more scientifically recognized term, "bunny" can convey a sense of endearment for the playful and cute qualities of baby rabbits. If you're struggling to decide between "rabbit" or "bunny," just know that it's really up to your personal preference and the context.

The word "rabbit" may be more appropriate for formal settings; however, in everyday language and popular culture, people continue to use "bunny" to convey a sense of affection for these lovable creatures.

What Is a Rabbit?

Rabbits are small mammals belonging to the scientific family Leporidae and are known for their soft fur, long ears, short tails and hopping behaviors. Rabbit coats can be a single color or a mix of white, black, brown, tan or cream, and the animals can vary in size.

For example, the pygmy rabbit is just 7.9 inches (20 cm) long and weighs less than a pound (0.4 kg), while the Flemish Giant rabbit averages 2.5 feet (76.2 cm) long and tips the scales at 15 pounds (6.8 kg).

Rabbits live with their young underground or under another type of protective cover, and are herbivorous animals, primarily feeding on grass and other vegetation. Their large ears help them detect predators, while their powerful back legs allow them to escape danger quickly.

There are more than two dozen different species of rabbits (excluding hares, which are limited to just the genus Lepus) around the world, including in both the Western and Eastern hemispheres.

5 Facts About Rabbits

Here are some important details about just what it is that makes rabbits unique:

1. Wild Rabbits Live in Close-Knit Communities for Protection.

Wild rabbits form social communities known as warrens, consisting of a dominant male (a buck), a dominant female (a doe), and their baby rabbits. Female rabbits within the same family often share burrows and exhibit other cooperative behaviors.

These intricate burrow systems provide shelter, security against predators, and a place where the entire community can share foraged food.

2. Rabbits Are Prolific Breeders.

Rabbits have evolved to have very rapid reproductive cycles to better ensure the survival of their species. Unlike some mammals, rabbits exhibit induced ovulation, where mating stimulates the release of eggs.

Rabbits also exhibit a phenomenon called "superfetation," which means female rabbits are capable of conceiving again shortly after giving birth. Following a gestation period of approximately 30 days, female rabbits will give birth to a litter of baby rabbits, called kittens or kits.

A litter might include as many as seven baby rabbits, with the average number varying depending on the breed.

3. Baby Rabbits Are Born Blind.

Rabbit kittens are born blind and rely wholly on their mother's care. Until they can see, these kits must rely on their keen senses and other family members for survival. For example, the mother rabbit nurses her offspring, providing essential nutrients for their growth and development.

Around 10 days old, a young rabbit begins to open its eyes, and within three weeks, its fur comes in, making it more closely resemble the adult rabbits.

4. Rabbit Species Are Highly Adaptable to Their Environments.

Every rabbit species has unique characteristics and adaptations. For example, cottontails, found in North America, boast shorter ears and tails, making them well-suited for their woodland habitats.

Rabbits like the brush rabbit, however, prefer dense vegetation for concealment. These diverse adaptations, ranging from their fur color to their body size, contribute to rabbits' success across different ecosystems.

5. Rabbit Fur Has Superior Insulating Qualities.

Rabbit coats consist of two types of hair: guard hairs and the soft undercoat, also known as the "down." The guard hairs provide protection and structure, while the down offers insulation. Because it's so soft, with a velvety texture, rabbit fur is a material in many different clothing items, like hats, gloves and scarves.

It comes in a range of colors, with some breeds exhibiting particularly unique characteristics. Angora rabbits, for instance, produce a silky, long-fibered fur known as angora wool — a highly valued material in the textile industry.

That said, the use of rabbit fur continues to spark debates about ethical considerations and animal welfare (don't get us started on the "lucky" rabbit's foot), and has led to increased advocacy for cruelty-free and synthetic alternatives throughout the fashion industry.

Four hares leaping through short green grass
Hares are generally larger than rabbits and are built for open habitats such as fields and meadows. Andyworks / Getty Images

Rabbit vs. Hare

Hares and rabbits, although belonging to the same family (Leporidae), are not exactly the same. In fact, they possess notable differences in their physical traits, behavior and ecology.

Hares are generally larger in size, with longer legs and ears that feature distinctive black markings. They often have a scruffier appearance, too, thanks to their fur, which blends into the surroundings of their open habitats, such as in fields and meadows.

In contrast, rabbits have softer fur, shorter ears and a tendency to inhabit burrows within denser vegetation. While hares are more solitary creatures, rabbits live in social groups.

The animals' offspring also set them apart: Hare kittens are born fully furred and mobile, while rabbit kits are born hairless and dependent. Additionally, hares are known for their powerful hind legs, which enable swift running, whereas rabbits rely on their agility and shorter quick movements.

Rabbits as Pets

Rabbits make popular and affectionate pets, offering both companionship and entertainment. People longing for a specific type of pet rabbit have even selectively bred some domesticated rabbit breeds, like the Dutch or Mini Lop, for particular traits, such as size, color, or temperament.

Domesticated rabbits can have a playful, social nature and often showcase a range of fur colors and patterns, which only adds to their appeal as pets. Proper care for a pet rabbit is fairly straightforward and includes providing a balanced diet, secure housing and regular veterinary checkups.

All breeds of domestic rabbit originate from the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). While rabbits were once primarily valued for the production of rabbit meat, today's domesticated rabbits — adult rabbits and baby bunnies alike — are cherished members of households worldwide.

Bunnies and Rabbits in Popular Culture

Bunnies and rabbits appear throughout popular culture. A famous example is the Easter Bunny, a beloved figure associated with the Easter holiday and a cultural icon said to deliver eggs to children. Meanwhile, in literature and folklore, the character of Peter Cottontail has enchanted generations, popping up (or shall we say, "hopping" up?) in many a tale of springtime adventures.

In modern times, rabbits and bunnies have become endearing characters in animated and fictional works, too. Bugs Bunny, for example, is an iconic figure in the world of animation, having entertained audiences for decades with his witty humor and clever antics.

These representations reflect the enduring charm of bunnies and rabbits as cultural symbols. Whether conveying the joy of Easter or bringing laughter through animated silliness, these creatures continue to play prominent roles in shaping cultural narratives.

This article was created in conjunction with AI technology, then was fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

Original article: Bunny vs. Rabbit: Is There a Difference?

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