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How Do Wild Rabbits Survive?

Rabbits are among the most common mammals found all over North America. Wild rabbits have short life spans as they are prey to various predators. They also face harsh environments, and in this article, I will let you know about some of the hardships they face in the wild.

Rabbits are prey animals with many predators trying to eat them. Rabbits survive by sprinting, avoiding open spaces, performing sharp turns, and squeezing into small spaces.

While rabbits, both wild and domesticated, are among the most common animals in North America, many people know little about them. This is why there’s a common misconception that rabbits are rodents. For this reason, let’s highlight the rabbit’s daily survival tactics in the wild.

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Photo of rabbit

How Do Rabbits Evade Predators?

Although rabbits are small and cute, these features do not prevent them from turning into a delicious meal for many predators in the wild. But as nature intended, rabbits have mastered several tricks up their sleeves to increase their chances of surviving.

Physical Features

In addition to their fertile reproductive habits, rabbits rely on their instincts and physical attributes to up their survival chances. Some of these physical features include:

Sharp Eyes

Like other prey animals such as pronghorns and antelopes, rabbits have their eyes on each side of the head. Unlike predators such as dogs, snakes, cheetahs, cats, raccoons, hawks, coyotes, and foxes, which have eyes in front of their heads, rabbits can see behind them. Their eyes’ position enables them to notice any movement and detect any form of danger coming from behind.

I have written a full article on how well rabbits can see here.

Ears

Another essential component of a bunny’s body is the ears. While a rabbit’s ear is much in our range, they are longer and can hear high-pitched mechanical and electrical sounds that we cannot hear. Their ears can reach up to 5 inches in length and can rotate better to collect any sound coming from a would-be predator.

Strong Hind Legs

In the wild, rabbits face a constant threat from predators such as eagles, owls, falcons, wild dogs, foxes, coyotes, ground squirrels, feral cats, and even humans. For this reason, they have strong hind legs that enable them to run and jump as quickly as possible whenever necessary.

A rabbit can use his hind legs if he’s cornered to kick at the predator, and that’s his last option. A rabbit can also turn and fight when there is no alternative.  

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Predator Survival Mechanism

Social Groups

Much like humans or chimps, rabbits have developed a high social order. In other words, they are social creatures that live in large groups known as colonies. When a rabbit detects any danger, it will thump on the ground to alert other rabbits.

Extremely Sensitive

While rabbits use sounds, body language, and scents to communicate, they’re susceptible and will use their senses to detect danger instinctively.

Freeze Response

Rabbits are generally known to be active from dusk to dawn. When they go out to find food, they can hide from predators under the cover of darkness.

A rabbit will twitch its ears, turn its head, and sniff in the air when there’s any weird sound or unusual movement.

Again, a rabbit can deploy a freeze defense mechanism if he spots a predator from a distance. Freeze defense will be the first choice in most cases if the predator has not spotted him. This stillness helps the rabbit blend seamlessly into the surroundings, making him difficult to spot.

Staying still also helps the rabbit evade the predator since many predators are often attracted to movement. In some instances, the rabbit can even play dead.

The rabbit’s heart and cardiac output will naturally increase, and blood is sent to the muscles to improve his quickness and endurance. Whether the rabbit outruns the predator or is turned into a delicious meal, many things depend on the rabbit’s luck, knowledge of the terrain, and general agility and swiftness.

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Fleeing

A rabbit’s chances of surviving in the wild depend on his intuitive ability to escape. When a rabbit’s instinct to fly is activated, the rabbit continually undergoes many psychological changes to increase its chances of survival.

Hiding

Although outrunning a predator seems like the best option, it may sometimes not work. Under such a scenario, the rabbit may need to use his knowledge of the area. The rabbit can employ several tricks while running for his life, such as zigzag turns, leaping into the air, and finding an appropriate hiding spot.

Fighting

When all the above-described options fail, the rabbit will have no other choice but to fight for his life! A rabbit can apply this trick to give him the chance to flee. The rabbit will generally rely on his strong hind legs to kick the predator.

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How Are Rabbits Adapted For Survival?

Whether during winter or in the desert, a rabbit has various adaptation skills that allow him to fit into the environment perfectly. Some of these adaptations include:

Fur

While a rabbit’s fur makes him cute, it is also essential for survival. A rabbit’s fur will adapt depending on its surrounding environment. This adaptation of the rabbit’s fur helps him camouflage and blend with the surroundings. For instance, a rabbit in arctic areas is likely white, while a rabbit in the desert is reddish-brown. Again, the fur protects the rabbit from both heat and cold.

Ears

In addition to playing a critical role in detecting any form of sound and alerting them of predators, a rabbit’s ears play a vital function in its survival. The ears are of great importance, especially to rabbits that live in the desert or hot regions, as they act as “air conditioners.” These 5-inch long ears radiate heat, thereby enabling self-thermoregulation.

Feet

Rabbits have evolved to have large feet that act like “snowshoes” to protect them from adverse winter conditions. These large feet also have fur to help protect rabbits from the desert heat.

Tail

A rabbit’s small and ball-shaped tail plays a very crucial role. A long and bushy tail can slow down the rabbit when fleeing from a predator. Under such a scenario, a small tail doesn’t stick out and cannot be latched on by a predator.

Teeth

A rabbit has four incisors on the upper jaw instead of two. These extra teeth enable the rabbit to gnaw and chew through rigid plant material. Rabbits are strictly herbivorous, so their teeth’ shapes play a critical role. The rabbit’s front teeth keep growing during their lifespan to enhance their survival chances.

Reproduction Habit

The fact that rabbits are highly productive is essential in upping their chances of survival. A rabbit can give birth three or four times a year. This high reproduction rate is crucial, given that about 85% of baby rabbits do not make it to their first birthday.

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Photo of desert rabbit

How Does a Rabbit Survive in the Wild?

Wild rabbits have mastered the art of surviving in the wild. For example, they can make their nests in areas where you wouldn’t expect them to, such as right in the middle of an open field. In short, wild rabbits tend to hide in plain sight and in areas that predators wouldn’t even imagine.

Living under the Ground or on High Grounds

Wild rabbits are also known to survive in the wild by turning underground burrows into their homes. Unlike a few wild rabbits that make their nests in open fields, most rabbits spend their lives in underground shelters. Other wild rabbits also live on high grounds. When creating their burrows or nests, wild rabbits make two exits to enhance their chance of escaping should there be any danger.

Living in Groups or Colonies

Wild rabbits are known to live in groups, not just because they are social animals but also to enhance their survival. Like humans, rabbits are firm believers in unity and strength in numbers. Such colonies have a strict social order. For instance, dominant rabbits eat first and have access to the best females in the territory.

On the other hand, working rabbits are tasked with digging the burrows and gnawing through branches. As such, a docile or sickly rabbit may not stand the chance of surviving even in the group. They’ll be mercilessly harassed and denied access to food and water.

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Strict Traditions

Another fundamental part of rabbits’ survival in the wild has to do with tradition. Rabbits don’t just go out to go out or because they feel hungry. Instead, they go out when they know it’s safe to venture outside. This is why rabbits will go out looking for food under the cover of darkness and come back to their burrows just before dawn.

Again, they will not return to an area where they had a traumatic experience. For instance, rabbits will not go back to where one of them fell prey. Although rabbits are among the most curious animals, they do not take it lightly if one of them is turned into a delicious meal by a predator.

How Long Do Rabbits Live in the Wild?

Wild rabbits have a life expectancy of about two years. However, they usually live for a little over a year. Many factors hinder wild rabbits from living longer than their domesticated counterparts, which can live for over four years. Disease, predators, harsh weather conditions, and lack of sufficient water and food hugely influence how long wild rabbits live.

While this might seem a little harsh, it is nature’s way of balancing itself out and controlling the rabbit population.

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How Does a Rabbit Survive in winter?

The smell and view of freshly fallen snow blanketing the world around you often seem picturesque and enthralling. But have you ever paused and asked yourself how wild rabbits survive winter?

Staying Warm during winter

One of the greatest misconceptions about wild animals is that they hibernate during winter. Unlike other wild mammals such as bears that hibernate during winter, rabbits DO NOT hibernate during winter. If anything, they tend to behave almost the same way they do through the seasons, except that they change their survival tactics depending on the seasons.

Although it may seem like rabbits disappear during winter, they don’t. Wild rabbits usually dig burrows in the ground or use thick shrubs to build nests to survive in winter. Those that cannot dig their holes often look for abandoned burrows, which they turn their homes during winter.

These burrows are essential in keeping them warm and protecting them from harsh winter elements and predators.

Diet during winter

Like many other wild mammals in seasonal environments, rabbits are somewhat limited during winter. Rabbits are 100% herbivorous, and much of the vegetation they eat during warmer seasons is either covered in snow or gone during winter.

During such times, wild rabbits will gnaw and chew on the bark of trees and small woody plants. They will also move closer to nearby urban areas to scavenge for grains blown from nearby agricultural fields.

Even though we’ve mentioned that rabbits are strictly herbivorous, they can sometimes resort to eating their feces and small insects if the situation becomes worse.

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How Many Rabbits survive during winter?

It’s been noted that only 30% of wild rabbits survive winter. While this figure may not be exact, it’s a clear indication that rabbits’ high mortality rates occur during winter. This is because food is scarce, and the rabbits also face increased risk from predators struggling for food.

How Do Rabbits Survive in North American Deserts?

Several rabbit species are native to the deserts, arid, and dry shrubland of North America. In the United States, such rabbits can be found through the Plains states from northern Mexico, west Texas, and Nevada to eastern Montana.

Rabbits have to undergo several adaptations to survive in the desert, as discussed below.

Ears – Having large ears is perhaps the most remarkable adaptation of all. Wild rabbits in desert regions have very long ears, measuring about 5 inches. The ears have thin skin and are full of blood vessels to regulate their body temperatures when it becomes hotter.

The structure of these long ears can regulate blood flow by dilating the blood vessels. This, in turn, allows heat to escape from the rabbit’s body, thus cooling him in the process. This process also helps the rabbit conserve water by reducing water loss, which may occur through sweating or panting.

Water Intake and Conservation

There’s no doubt that water is hard to come by in desert regions and wild rabbits seem to be naturally aware of this scarcity. But because water is so vital to their bodies and they cannot do without it, wild rabbits have developed ways of conserving water in their bodies.

Besides getting water from the types of food they eat, such as cacti, twigs, grasses, and desert leaves, wild rabbits survive in the desert by developing water-retaining adaptations. For instance, wild rabbits often eat their feces to get as much moisture as possible.

Feet and Fur

Desert sand and land are hot. For this reason, rabbits have developed large feet that are covered with layers of fur. While foot fur is essential in keeping the rabbit warm during winter, it also protects its delicate sole from hot sand and heat from the ground. Again, the rest of the rabbit’s body fur tends to be reddish-brown to offer desert camouflage.

Behavioral Adaptations

Another way to keep cool and survive in the desert is by staying away from the sun or hot temperature during the hottest time of the day. Generally, rabbits become active at night and remain in their burrows or shady areas during the day.

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Can a Pet Rabbit Survive in the Wild?

Even the most adventurous pet rabbits do not stand a chance to survive if let out into the wild. It can be challenging for a pet rabbit to fend for itself and evade predators.

Conclusion

There are a lot of wild rabbits in North America. These rabbits are beautiful creatures that make our nature complete. Unfortunately, every day brings the chance to survive in the wild. The presence of countless predators such as snakes, foxes, coyotes, hawks, falcons, owls, and many more offer a constant threat to the wild rabbits. To survive, rabbits have to be fast, alert and hide even in plain sight.

And whether a wild rabbit survives predators, it still faces the threat of natural elements such as winter or dealing with hot temperatures. For this reason, they have naturally adapted their body parts, feeding, and living habits to survive these elements.

As always, it’s survival for the fittest, even for small animals like wild rabbits.

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