May I introduce, the Black Tailed Jackrabbit?
Watership Down lives! One of my favorite books ever, I’ve read Watership Down at least a dozen times. What a fascinating glimpse into social, political and philosophical issues. As a youngster, it never occurred to me to question if the characters in the novel were rabbits or hares. Turns out, they were European Rabbits. Our featured friend here, however, is properly a Hare or member of the genus Lepus. Rabbits belong to the genus Oryctolagus (European rabbit) or Sylvilagus (cottontail rabbits). But based on size, speed, and attitude, it seemed to me that the characters in my favorite book must be the more independent and hardier hare?
Hares differ from rabbits in several ways. Rabbits (kits) are born blind, hairless and helpless, but in a well prepared burrow and under care of mom. Hares (leverets) are born fully haired, eyes open, and ready to move soon after birth. They are born in a simple depression in the ground, are regularly left alone by mom, nurse for 2-3 days, and are fully independent in a month. Hares, in fact, live independently in the open, not in social burrows like rabbits. They like prairies, grasslands, and shrublands, and are rarely found in closed canopies. Their eyes are positioned high on their head and toward the side, allowing them to see almost 360 degrees. Speed is their defense, reaching almost 40 miles an hour in bursts. As an open terrain animal, they don’t have permanent burrows in which to hide from predators.
Hares are more athletic, less cautious, and capable of running faster and for longer distances than rabbits. They have long, largely hairless ears to aid in thermal regulation in hot environments, being filled with blood vessels that allow for more heat to disperse. Rabbits are more sedentary and remain close to the safety of their intricate burrows.
Rabbits, which live in social colonies, have social structures that can be quite complex with social hierarchies and cooperative behaviors. Hares live independently and are not generally territorial like rabbits who will defend their burrows and surrounding areas. While rabbits prefer softer vegetation such as grasses, herbs and leafy plants, hares often consume tougher more fibrous vegetation, especially in the winter when only twigs, bark and buds can be found.
So… based on the social interactions, hierarchies, babies, burrow life, and food choices… Watership Down was a story of rabbits. Though ‘Bigwig’, the warrior hero of the ‘good guys’ in the story, must surely have been a hare??? 🤷‍♀️😜