With Easter comes images of fluffy rabbits. Most people believe that rabbits are rodents, given their large front incisors and tendency to destroy property like gardens, water hoses, and crops. Rabbits and rodents were once lumped together in the same zoological category, but now scientists know better.
Rodents include mice, rats, hamsters, chinchillas, and squirrels. (Lesser known and larger mammals that are actually rodents include beavers, porcupines, groundhogs, prairie dogs, and the largest in the world- the capybara, which can weigh in at almost 150 pounds!)
Rabbits (and hares) are considered Lagomorphs. Lagomorphs are different from rodents in many ways. The first of which is their digestive system. Rodents are opportunistic eaters, which means they’ll eat meat and animal proteins if necessary to survive. On the other hand, lagomorphs are strict vegetarians and their much more complicated digestive systems are similar to those of horses and cattle in order to process all that greenery.
The dental characteristics of rabbits also differ. Unlike rodents that have one pair of incisors, rabbits and other lagomorphs have two. Rabbits also have different enamel on their teeth: It’s colorless (white), while the enamel of rodents ranges from yellow to orange. Rabbits need to gnaw to keep their continuously growing teeth trimmed down just like rodents do. It’s generally for this reason they are often identified as rodents.
Anatomically, rabbits do not have front paws designed to hold food to eat it. You’ll commonly see a mouse or rat holding a piece of food to dine, but a rabbit can’t do that! Also, a rabbit’s legs are fully covered in fur while rodent’s legs and paws are nearly bare with just a light fuss on them.
Housing habits for rabbits are different, too. While rodents can (and will!) make a home almost anywhere, wild lagomorphs live strictly in burrows (or warrens) underground and often in huge colonies.
The largest domestic rabbit ever recorded was a Continental Giant rabbit named Darius who measured at 4 feet 3 inches long! Prehistoric lagomorph species is the Minorcan Giant rabbit, which scientists estimate would have weighed 26 pounds and was about six times the size of today’s giant European rabbits.