How Do Wild Rabbits Survive?


Photo of rabbit

Rabbits are among the most common mammals found all over North America. Wild rabbits have short life spans due as they are prey to various predators. They also face harsh environments so I wanted to find out how they survive.

Rabbits are prey animals with many predators trying to eat them. Rabbits survive by being able to run quickly, avoiding open spaces and by performing huge hops, 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. In fact, 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.

How Do Rabbits Evade Predators?

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

Physical Features

In addition to their prolific reproductive habits, rabbits do rely on their sensational 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 predator animals such as dogs, snakes, cheetahs, cats, raccoons, hawks, coyotes, and foxes, which have eyes in the front of their heads, rabbits can see at the back. The position of their eyes enables them to notice any movement and detect any form of danger that’s coming from behind.

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

Photo of rabbit

Ears

Another important component of a bunny’s body is the ears. While a rabbit’s ear is much in our range, they are longer and have the ability to 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.  

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 sign of 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 extremely sensitive and will use their senses to instinctively detect danger or any abnormal activity.

Freeze Response

Rabbits are generally known to be active from dusk to dawn. This is when they go out to find food since they can hide from predators under cover of darkness.

A rabbit will twitch his ears, turn his 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. In most cases, freeze defense will be the first choice of defense if the predator has not spotted him. This stillness helps the rabbit to blend seamlessly into the surrounding, thereby 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 increase his quickness and endurance. Whether the rabbit outruns the predator or is turned into a delicious meal, a lot of things will depend on the rabbit’s luck, knowledge of the terrain and the rabbit’s general agility and swiftness.

Fleeing

A rabbit’s chances of surviving in the wild hugely depends on his instinctive ability to escape. When a rabbit’s instinct to fly is activated, the rabbit always undergoes a lot of psychological changes to increase his chances of survival.

Photo of rabbit

Hiding

Although outrunning a predator seems like the best option, it may sometimes not work. Under such a scenario, the rabbit may need to put into good use his knowledge of the area. While running for his dear life, the rabbit can employ a number of tricks 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.

How Are Rabbits Adapted For Survival?

Whether it’s 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 important for his survival. A rabbit’s fur will adapt depending on his surrounding environment. This adaptation of the rabbit’s fur helps him to camouflage and blend with the surrounding. For instance, a rabbit in arctic areas is likely to be white in color while a rabbit in the desert is likely to be 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 alert them of predators, a rabbit’s ears plays an important 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. When fleeing from a predator, a long and bushy tail can slow down the rabbit. 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 tough plant material. Rabbits are strictly herbivorous, and so the shapes of their teeth play a critical role. In fact, the front teeth of the rabbit keep on growing during his 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.

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 have the tendency of hiding 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 bunnies that love making their nests in open fields, most rabbits spend their lives in the underground burrows. Other wild rabbits also love

living on high grounds. When creating their burrows or nests, wild rabbits do create 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 colony.

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. That’s because they’ll be mercilessly harassed and denied access to food and water.

Strict Traditions

Another fundamental part of rabbits’ survival in the wild has to do with tradition. Rabbits don’t just go out for the sake of going 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 cover of darkness and come back to their burrows just before dawn.

Again, they will not go back to an area where they had a traumatic experience. For instance, rabbits will not go back to a place 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. There are obviously a lot of factors that hinder wild rabbits from living longer than their domesticated counterparts, which can live for over four years! From diseases, predators to harsher weather conditions and lack of sufficient water and food, these factors hugely influence how long these wild rabbits live.

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

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 do wild rabbits survive during winter?” Well, let’s find out.

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 actually don’t. To survive in winter, wild rabbits usually dig burrows in the ground or use thick shrubs to build nests. Those that cannot dig their own burrows often look for abandoned burrows, which they turn their homes during winter.

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

Photo of rabbit in winter

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 are either covered in snow or gone during winter.

During such times, wild rabbits will resort to gnawing and chewing on the bark of trees and small woody plants. They will also move closer to nearby urban areas to scavenge for grains that are 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.

How Many Rabbits survive during winter?

It’s been noted that only 30% of wild rabbits do 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, which are also struggling for food.

How Do Rabbits Survive in North American Deserts?

There are a number of rabbit species that 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 all the way to eastern Montana.

In order to survive in the desert, rabbits have to undergo several adaptations 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 help them regulate their body temperatures when it becomes hotter.

The structure of these long ears can regulate the flow of blood 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 to conserve water by reducing any loss of water, 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 important to their bodies and they cannot do without it, wild rabbits have developed ways of conserving water in their bodies.

In addition to getting water from the types of food that they eat such as cacti, twigs, grasses, and desert leaves, wild rabbits survive in the desert by developing water-retaining adaptation. For instance, wild rabbits often eat their feces so that they can 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 feet fur is important in keeping the rabbit warm during winter, it also protects the rabbit’s delicate sole from hot sand and heat that comes 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 stay in their burrows or shady areas during the day.

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. Well, that’s because it can be very difficult for a pet rabbit to fend off for itself and also evade the 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. In order to survive, rabbits have to be fast, alert at all times, and have the ability to 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.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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