Hares, rabbits, and pikas are all from the same family, the lagomorphs, yet do have many differences, as happens in any family. The word lagomorphs is basically saying that they are all “hare shaped.” Just to confuse the average human, science seems to have been playing some tricks on us, naming a true hare a jackrabbit and naming a rabbit a Belgiun Hare. How can we be expected to figure this out? All three types of Lagomorphs are herbavores, reingest fecal matter, acquire most of their hydration through the vegetation they eat and are some of the most popular prey for birds of prey and large mammal carnivores. No matter which type of Lagomorph, life is not easy, nearly all die or are killed within their first year of life.
The hare generally has the longest legs of the three different types of Lagomorphs. More often than not the hare is larger than both the rabbit and the pika and has the largest ears. The large ears helps them to detect prey from greater distances and also helps to dissipate heat throughout the intricate blood vessels that appear in the ear. The hare appears to have the largest home ranges and molts in autumn, growing back a white fur coat for the winter as additional camoflauge. The hare does not create a nest for its young, instead making a simple depression in the dirt or sand. Young hares are born with fur, with eyes open, and ready to start moving about (precocial). The mother will stay with the young for a few hours, maybe a day, if at all.
Both the rabbit and the hare freeze when a predator approaches, hoping to reduce its visibility to the predator, as the quick jerky movement of a rabbit or hare would draw attention. Most of the life of the rabbit and hare is silent. They will communicate by thumping a back leg and will let out a squeal of terror when attacked.
Rabbits are generally smaller than the hare and do not tend to change in fur color. The largest difference from the hare is in the way the young are handled. Rabbits create a nest of fur from the mother’s belly and grasses. Rabbits are born with their eyes closed and are cared for in the nest (altricial) and tended to by the mother rabbit for up to two weeks.
Pikas appear more rodent like than the hare or the rabbit. Pikas have a much smaller range than hares and rabbits, being found only in cold, mountainous areas. The pikas are small and their legs are similar sizes front and hind, so they do not hop like the rabbits and hares. The ears of the Pika are small and rounded. They choose rocky, boulder fields near meadows to live in. Food is readily available and they cut and store their food sources (most all vegetation) and create little haystacks that they can move around. They require boulders to hide from predators, ducking away into the crevices for safety. Sometimes, on rainy nights the pika will pull their haystack into the crevice, pulling it out in the morning to dry in the sunlight. Pikas live in colonies and are active year round. They have a unique whistling bark that they use to warn the other pikas of approaching predators.
Hares, rabbits, and pikas each have their individual characteristics, but I would be very impressed if you were able to see an animal in the distance and could tell me whether it was a rabbit or a hare. The pika is the most unique looking of the three, and the noisiest. Have fun sorting through these critters.