In the wild, rabbits are known for their flashing their fluffy, white tails as they run from predators. Their soft coats and bushy tails have fascinated us for years. While their coat colors vary a little here and there, their tails always seem to be white. Here, we’ll talk about their tails and what kind of variation they have!
Do all rabbits have white tails? In domestic breeds, not always. In the wild, they generally do. While domestic breeds encourage and favor color variations, rabbits in the wild do best with their camouflage coat and little white tail to keep them safe.
Why Do Rabbits Have White Tails?
There’s quite a bit of speculation around why rabbits’ tails are white. In some ways, it seems counterintuitive.
A rabbit’s coat is a great camouflage in its natural environment. In many areas, shades of brown, white, and black imitates the grasses they inhabit. From the side, you might walk by a rabbit in its natural habitat and never notice it is there.
However, the underside or the entire tail is then white. As a contrast, most things in nature don’t display such bright and pristine white colors. This makes the rabbit stick out when it raises its tail or is seen from behind. It’s much easier to spot this way, which, at first, doesn’t seem like a good defense.
What Do Scientist Say About Rabbits White Tails?
The more scientists investigate these white tails, the more interesting they actually are! Not only do rabbits display white tails, but deer do, too. Both rabbits and deer are some of the most abundant prey in their habitats. In areas where they aren’t native, they may even become invasive. So, what’s up with the flag on their backs?
We’re not sure yet. We have a couple of strong explanations, and some not-so-strong explanations, but we’re still investigating why exactly it is. For now, we have two main ideas.
The first one is that they are flagging others. When they raise their tails and start flashing everything in the nearby vicinity, it may be too late for this rabbit to get away to begin with. However, by signaling other rabbits, they may be able to escape before other predators get to them. This “signaling” is an effective solution used even by plants who can send signals to others even if the warning plant is already dying. It’s a quick, simple way to save the group even though it doesn’t benefit the flagger at all.
The second idea is that the tail is so white and bright that it is easier to watch than trying to tell the bunny from the environment. Then, when the bunny zig or zags for a turn, the bunny “disappears” for just a moment until the predator can adjust their vision. By the time the predator has locked back onto the bunny, they’ve lost a valuable second. As the bunny continues to race and turn corners, the predator may just lose enough time to lose the rabbit altogether.
Whatever it is, it’s clear that there must be a good reason that protects the rabbit and its family from harm.
How Fast Can a Rabbit Run?
A whopping 35 miles per hour or about 55 kilometers per hour for the common cottontail rabbit, propelled by its powerful back legs! The cotton tail is the domestic-sized rabbit many of us know from sitting around in yards or parks, or in our vegetable gardens finding a delightful snack.
On the lower end of the scale, the snowshoe rabbit takes things at a more relaxing 27 miles per hour or 43 kilometers per hour. For whatever reason that they move more slowly, these little buns are also adept at blending into their snow-filled environment as well, which might make up for some of their speed loss. They also have to contend with moving along snow while the cottontail can usually rely on solid ground.
On the fastest end, the jackrabbit is known for its incredible 45 miles per hour or roughly 70 kilometers per hour! However, the jackrabbit can’t quite take the fastest rabbit mantle since it is technically a hare. One of the distinctions of a hare from a rabbit is their longer hind legs, giving them an upper edge in the race.
Most rabbits are known not just for their speed in a straight line, but for how adept they are at zig-zagging as well. Moving from side to side and taking quick turns to move in a new direction are special skills that really give them an upper-paw in the wild. Each time they can continue running at least close to top speed with a turn helps them escape pursuit from predators.
Of course, if you have a pet rabbit at home, they may be able to reach these speeds, but you may never see it. Anything motivating this speed could be stressful for them, and they aren’t well-prepared for it in home environments. For example, while a human’s top speed is technically 28 miles per hour or 45 kilometers per hour, most of us would hurt ourselves trying to hit that speed. Rabbits are no different, and hitting those top speeds is due in part to consistent, daily use of that speed.
What Are Other Ways a Rabbit Can Defend Itself?
Mainly, by kicking. Rabbits also have large, powerful teeth that could leave a mean bite, but they don’t really want to be face-to-face with a predator. Instead, those long hind legs that power their sprints are also powerful kickers. If something were behind them, they could warn it with a powerful thwap of their legs that, in the best-case scenario, could even disorient a predator, leaving the rabbit a little extra time to get a lead for its big escape.
Otherwise, warning from other rabbits is another great way rabbits can keep themselves and others safe. In addition to the possibility of flashing white tails signaling danger, rabbits are very well known to thump their back legs against the ground. This sound warns nearby rabbits that it’s a good time to run!
If they haven’t been spotted, then their best and most reliable defense is actually their coat. Their mottled fur coats are actually fantastic camouflage in the wild that can keep them safe if all they do is stay very still until the potential threat sneaks by. If you’ve ever missed a rabbit or deer in the wild, then their coat did its job!
How Long Do Rabbits Live?
In the wild, just one or two years. The stress of escaping enemies and the threat of being caught as well as conditions that aren’t ideal really take a toll on the average lifespan of a rabbit. These creatures survive best not from a long lifespan, but their ability to adapt to a huge variety of environments and frequent breeding resulting in large litters.
At home, on the other hand, a domesticated rabbit has a much brighter outlook. The Guinness World Record holder for rabbit age lived to an incredible 18 years old!
For other rabbits, we can expect them to live a decade, give or take a few years. Like many dogs and cats, mixed breeds will also fare the best. We can thank lowered stress levels, a low risk of predators, and a varied and reliable diet. All of these little things can contribute to the domesticated rabbit living for many, many years!
Who Domesticated the Rabbit?
We can thank French monks declaring rabbits a type of fish who could be eaten even during Lent! This isn’t the only instance of monks making exceptions for rabbits, as it is believed in Japanese that monks decided rabbits could be eaten because they hopped and ran so quickly they must be birds!
Whatever their motivation, their work lead to rabbits today being common home pets that come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors – even their tails, which can be entirely black in some breeds. Most interestingly, scientists have found that rabbits haven’t deactivated any of their survival genes throughout this process! Thanks, monks!
What Is the Difference Between a Rabbit and a Hare?
A lot, actually! A hare has longer back legs, ears, and their fur changes from season-to-season while a rabbit’s is always the same. Rabbits eat vegetation, hares eat bark. Hares make their nests aboveground while rabbits make underground nests. They’re quite different although they look alike!
Where Do Rabbits Come From?
Europe, mainly. From there, rabbits have visited most of the world through their own traveling as well as tagging along for rides with humans. From there, they found much of the world quite habitable. In some places, they are so happy that they have become invasive.
Why Do Rabbits Have Long Ears?
All the better to hear you with! Their ears catch more sound in nearly any direction! Their ears can also help thermoregulate by releasing excess heat. This little feature can help keep them from overheating, especially after strenuous and stressful activities.