Who’s the Easter Bunny?
Mythical egg deliverer is maybe a hare — or a rabbit
Is the Easter Bunny a cottontail or a snowshoe hare?
Both are native to North America, unlike domesticated rabbits, which are elaborately bred descendents of European wild rabbits.
Hares are larger than rabbits, with bigger ears and feet. They’re born fully furred and ready to run. Their longer back legs and toes are adaptations that provide additional surface area and support for walking on snow. Hence the name snowshoe hare. They also use their big feet to flee at the first sign of danger.
Snowshoe hares roam colder country, including the dense coniferous forests of the Rocky and Appalachian mountains and the Pacific Northwest. They avoid open ground, living in forests and thick cover where they can forage among brush.
Camouflage fur also protects hares from predators. In winter, hares are as white as the snowy ground. In the spring and summer, they turn a reddish-brown, blending in with dirt and rocks. The tips of their ears stay black year round.
Eastern cottontails are very different. They like meadows and farmland, where plants provide hiding places from predators. Born blind and helpless, they have fewer defenses than their bigger-eared cousins. Their fur doesn’t change with the seasons to afford them camouflage, and when threatened, they typically freeze rather than run.
Rabbits survive as a species because they’re so prolific.
If no young rabbits were lost from a litter, one rabbit pair might produce 350,000 offspring in five years.
But many don’t survive infancy.
Mother cottontails nurse their babies only once or twice a day. The rest of the time, the mothers stay away so they don’t attract predators. Often the babies hop around the nest exploring their surroundings. They are tiny — only tennis-ball-size — when they leave the nest to start life on their own.
So if you see a baby not in immediate danger, leave well enough alone.
To see if the mother’s around, carefully arrange sticks in a pattern on top of the nest. Check back later. If the mother’s come to nurse, the sticks will be disturbed.
If you do rescue a cottontail in need, don’t try to care for it yourself. Keep it warm and quiet, and contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitator. Orphan baby rabbits are difficult to raise, and cottontails don’t adapt well in captivity.
Do you think the Easter Bunny on these old fashioned cards is hare or rabbit?