Rabbits and hares look very similar and both are quite recognizable with their long hind legs and long ears. However, hares tend to weigh more and have larger hind feet than rabbits. Two species are found in Michigan, the cottontail rabbit and the snowshoe hare.
Both rabbits and hares are species adapted to being food for predators, such as hawks, owls, coyote, and foxes. They are able to reproduce at a fast rate and early age so their populations can tolerate a high level of predation. Cottontails are a species best adapted to southern Michigan’s landscape and weather. Snowshoe hares are best adapted to the higher snowfall and dense forests of northern Michigan.
- Cottontail rabbits can be found throughout most of Michigan but are less common in the northern portions of the state.
- Cottontail’s prefer areas with ample vegetation and hiding places such as brush piles and thickets.
- Summertime foods include grasses, clover, and garden vegetables.
- In the winter, cottontails eat twigs, buds, and bark of many shrubs.
- Breeding can take place between March and September and adult females could have up to three litters in a year. Rabbits can breed at 2-3 months old. Females from the first spring litter can breed that same summer.
- Baby rabbits are born about a month later with little hair and their eyes closed. A cottontail’s litter is usually 3 to 8 babies. The mother only visits her nest once or twice a day to nurse her young. After about three weeks the young rabbits are weaned and on their own.
- Many predators seek cottontails as prey such as coyote, fox, hawks and owls.
- Learn more about the cottontail rabbit.
- Snowshoe hares are primarily found in the northern two-thirds of Michigan.
- Snowshoe’s prefer forests with thick understory and is often found in places like coniferous forests, cedar bogs, and spruce swamps.
- Snowshoe hares are well adapted for snow with their large hind feet, which help the animal travel over the snow. Snowshoes also lose their brown summer fur and get a white coat for the winter, giving it excellent camouflage.
- Hares eat grasses, buds of woody plants, and needles from conifers. Snowshoe hares may even eat meat and scavenge a meal from a carcass!
- Breeding takes place between March and September and adult females may have 2 to 4 litters a year. Young are born after about a month and the female simply hides them under a log or shrub. Young snowshoe hares are born fully furred and their eyes are open (unlike cottontails). Young snowshoes also will hide in separate places and only come together once a day for feeding and they are weaned after about four weeks.
- Predators like large owls and coyotes will prey on snowshoes.
- Learn more about the snowshoe hare.
- Small game hunting for species such as rabbits and hares is a great way to recreate and put wild game on the table. Rabbit and hare seasons are based on principles of wildlife management that allow for the harvest of animals from the population sustainably. Populations can be monitored through harvest surveys and other data to ensure harvest regulations are appropriate and that populations are managed appropriately.
- Learn more about rabbit and hare hunting.