Rabbits are small mammals kept as pets in several parts of the world. One of the commonly asked questions is “Are rabbits rodents.” Rabbits are small animals known for their long ears as well as their style of hopping around.
If you ever classified Rabbits as rodents, then you are wrong. Rabbits do not belong to the Rodentia family but are members of a different order known as Lagomorpha, which is home to pikas and hares.
Rabbits (also known as bunnies) are classified as lagomorphs because they have four incisors in their upper jaw. Also, rabbits are typically larger than most rodents. Rodents are typically identified by their two incisors.
Both rabbits and rodents are gnawing animals with sharp continuously growing teeth, they have their disparities. While lagomorphs share similar traits with rodents, they are completely different from each other, as they have digestive systems, dental anatomy, different diet, and nutritional needs.
Rodents are classified in the Rodentia order. Some of the popular rodents are capybaras, beavers, squirrels, mice, voles, guinea pigs, voles, and rats.
As mentioned, Rabbits are not members of the Rodentia order, rather they belong to the Lagomorpha order. Rabbits are popular pets and can be domesticated. In the wild, they live in burrows across various habitats, including deserts, grasslands, wetlands, and forests.
This post provides insights into where the rabbits come from. We will find out what family or order they belong to and their characteristics. We will also unveil the similarities and differences between rodents and rodents and provide more details on why rabbits aren’t rodents.
What Are Lagomorphs?
Rabbits are members of the Lagomorpha order, which is home to animals like hares and pikas. Like rabbits, animals in the Lagomorpha order are known as “Lagomorphs.”
The Lagomorpha order has only two families:
- Leporidae (Rabbits and Hares).
- Ochotonidae (Pikas).
The Leporidae family has roughly 109 living species (of which 42 of them are rodents) while the Ochotonidae has 30. Virtually all lagomorphs are typically herbivores; they feed on a variety of grasses, plants, fruits, and vegetables.
One of the main characteristics of lagomorphs is their unique dentition. Their double set of upper incisors is suitable for chewing and gnawing. Like rodents, their incisors never grow for the rest of their lifetime. Rabbits’ teeth never wear down and can take down tough plant matter and material.
Apart from their powerful continuously growing teeth, lagomorphs have large, powerful hind legs that help them move quickly. Rabbits, for instance, can hop over long distances. This unique movement system has helped them evade dangerous predators.
Both rabbits and hares have long, powerful hind legs and long ears. They live in various habitats and regions, including grassy, dry, rocky, and mountainous habitats.
Rabbits live on all continents except Antarctica. While they are not endemic to Australia, they have been introduced to the continent by humans and can be found in most parts of the region.
What Are Rodents?
Rodents are animals with short limbs and stout bodies; with some of them having long tails. Rodents are mammals and while most of them are small, the capybara is known for its enormous size and weight.
The main characteristic of all rodents is their incisor teeth. Rodents have four incisor teeth (two in both the upper and lower jaws) that don’t stop growing. So, they have to gnaw and chew anything they can find to shape their teeth and prevent them from growing too long for their mouths. Otherwise, the teeth will become too long and pierce through their skull.
Rodents’ teeth are made from enamel and dentin, and this is what gives their teeth their self-sharpening feature. The front area of their teeth is coated in enamel, which is stronger and even tougher than the dentin on the rear of their teeth. As they gnaw, the soft dentin wears away quicker than the tough enamel, and this creates a chisel-shaped edge in their teeth.
Rodents’ teeth are extremely sharp and can cut deep into most materials. Their teeth can break or cut tough plant material. Rodents are typically herbivores; they feed on grasses, leaves, grains, seeds, fruit, plants, and bark.
Not all rodents are herbivores, but some species are omnivores. Omnivorous rodents can eat plant materials as well as small insects and birds.
Guinea pigs, mice, and rats are the most popular rodents in the world but other animals that are rodents are capybaras, prairie dogs, porcupines, and beavers.
All rodents are grouped in the Rodentia order, which is the largest mammalian order in the world. More than 40% of all rodents worldwide are rodents. The Rodentia order is one of the largest orders in the animal kingdom, as it has more than 2,000 different species.
What Are Rabbits?
Rabbits are one of the most interesting animals to know. These creatures have short tails, long ears, and large, egg-shaped bodies. They belong to the Lagomorpha order, as well as hares and pikas.
Rabbits have their eyes positioned on both sides of their head, helping them to detect predators. Aside from rabbits, all members of the Lagomorpha order are smart – they have good eyes and ears to detect threats and predators.
Rabbits and hares have longer ears, which help them detect lurking predators from afar. Animals with smaller ears will only detect predators close by. Like rodents, there are thousands of rabbits in the wild. However, these rabbits have survived and evaded many predators – thanks to their fast legs and speed.
The hind legs of rabbits come with well-developed muscles and they are longer than their front legs. Rabbits can make quick hopping movements, helping travel and move long distances. Their hopping ability coupled with speed has helped them evade dangerous predators such as badgers, foxes, wolves, and coyotes.
Hares, on the other hand, have longer hind legs, and this is why they tend to run faster than rabbits. Rabbits do not have paw pads on their legs. Rather, they have coarse, compressed fur, which gives them protection, especially during locomotion.
Are Rabbits Rodents?
Many scientists have disagreed on whether rabbits are rodents. Rabbits and other lagomorphs used to be classified as rodents hundreds of years ago but today, they have been grouped in a different order.
It is a fact that rabbits are not rodents because their teeth and dental structure differ from those of rodents. Additionally, rabbits are strictly herbivores. More than 90% of their diet comes from vegetables, plants, and leaves.
The relationship between rodents and lagomorphs has generated a lot of controversies among scientists and wildlife enthusiasts. Rabbits and rodents are not related for many reasons. Rabbits have long ears and long, back legs whereas rodents have short limbs.
Rabbits Vs Rodents: Similarities and Differences
Rodents and lagomorphs belong to different orders and aren’t closely related. That said, they have similar characteristics. This section is a comparison of rabbits and rodents. We will start with the similarities.
Similarities Between Lagomorphs and Rodents
Below are the key similarities between rodents and lagomorphs:
1. Continuously Growing Incisors: The primary defining feature of any rodent in the globe is its incisor teeth. All rodents have incisor teeth that don’t stop growing. Like rodents, rabbits also have incisor teeth that grow throughout their existence. Both of them gnaw different objects and they gnaw constantly without wearing down their teeth.
2. Gap Between Incisors and Molars: Both rodents and lagomorphs have a gap between their incisors and molars known as diastema. This feature allows the skin of the lip to create a barrier between the molars and incisors, preventing unwanted objects and materials from entering their mouths while gnawing.
3. Absence of Canine Teeth: Lagomorphs and rodents do not have canine teeth in their mouths.
4. Herbivorous Diets: Most rodents and lagomorphs are herbivores, meaning they feed on leaves, grasses, fruits, and plant matter. Not all rodents are herbivores, there exist some omnivores among them.
5. Social Behavior: Both rodents and lagomorphs live in groups. They interact and socialize with their kind and they exhibit various social behaviors, including vocalizations.
6. High Reproductive Rates: Lagomorphs and rodents have high reproductive rates. They have a shorter gestation period, which is one of the reasons they are not endangered. Their high reproductive rates have kept their number and population stable despite attacks from many predators in and out of the wild.
7. Adaptations for Escaping Predators: Rodents and lagomorphs have powerful legs. Rodents have short legs that are incredibly fast for evading predators. They can also climb trees and move away from danger. Rabbits and other lagomorphs have hind legs designed for quick movements. Both rabbits and lagomorphs have their eyes on both sides of their head, which allows for a wide field of vision.
8. Diversity and Global Distribution: Rodents and lagomorphs aren’t endangered but can be found in all regions and areas where living things are. They occupy different habitats and are well distributed across the globe.
9. Coprophagy: Many rodents, including the capybara, are coprophagous, meaning they feed on their feces. Coprophagy is a common practice in most rodents. Eating their poop helps them extract and re-ingest more nutrients from their meal. Rabbits can tough plant materials and their diet has a lot of cellulose, which can be difficult to digest, so they also eat their droppings. However, rabbits produce a different kind of poop known as “caecotropes.” Caecotropes contain a high level of protein and B vitamins, so rabbits need to eat them to stay healthy.
Differences Between Lagomorphs and Rodents
Despite having some similarities, lagomorphs and rodents also have their differences. This section will show you some of the differences between these two groups of mammals.
1. Number of Upper Incisors: While rodents and lagomorphs have incisors. Rodents have a pair of upper incisors while lagomorphs have two pairs. For lagomorphs, the second pair is smaller and can be found directly behind the first.
2. Tail Length: Most rodents, including rats and mice, have long tails which provide lots of benefits but lagomorphs have shorter tails. Some rodents have prehensile tails that serve different functions, including communication.
3. Furry Feet: Rabbits and all animals in the Lagomorpha order do not have paw pads. To compensate for this loss, the soles of their feet are covered with coarse, compressed hair.
4. Diet: Although lagomorphs and rodents are herbivores, rodents have a broader diet. Some rodent species are omnivores and do not depend on plant matter alone but lagomorphs are strictly herbivores.
Were Rabbits Originally Rodents?
Surprisingly, rabbits were originally classified as rodents. They were placed in the Rodentia order for many years until 1912. Scientists debated over the classification of many rodents like we have done here by discussing their similarities and differences.
Rodents are defined by their incisor teeth, which are missing in rabbits. Eventually, rabbits were removed from the Rodentia order and placed in the Lagomorpha order, which is home to pikas and hares.
While lagomorphs are a relatively small order compared to the Rodentia order, they exist and are well distributed in every part of the world except Antarctica.
Do Rabbits Have Continuously Growing Teeth?
Rabbits have ever-growing teeth, which is why they are often mistaken for rodents. While rabbits and other lagomorphs share a set of continuously growing teeth as rodents, their dental structure isn’t the same.
For rodents, their teeth are coated with dentin on the rear and enamel on the front. Rabbits’ teeth, on the other hand, are coated with enamel on both the front and back. Rabbits have an additional pair of upper incisors, which are tiny and peg-shaped. These extra pairs of incisors are difficult to see because they are positioned behind the main set of incisors.
Rodents can self-sharpen their teeth by clashing them against each other, which creates a unique chisel-shaped edge, but rabbits can’t.
Rabbits are not rodents and aren’t classified in the Rodentia order. Rather, they belong to a different order known as Lagomorpha. Members of the Lagomorpha order such as rabbits, pikas, and hares, are called lagomorphs.
Rodents were formerly classified as rodents due to their ever-growing incisor teeth for chewing and their herbivorous diet. However, a series of scientific studies have shown the physical, dietary, and behavioral differences between rabbits and rodents.