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Is The Easter Bunny A Rabbit?  Or A Hare?
Posted on Wednesday, April 16, 2014 by eNature
European Hare
European Hare
Desert Cottontail
Desert Cottontail

Spring has sprung and Easter is right around the corner.  That means the Easter Bunny is on the minds of many children.

And on the minds of many adults is the age-old question…..

Is the Easter Bunny a rabbit or a hare?

As many of our readers know, hares and rabbits are cousins.  The good news for all candy-lovers is that both are well equipped by nature to handle the tasks that come with being the Easter Bunny.

Rabbit vs. Hare
It’s actually the European hare, or brown hare, that holds the impressive credential of being the original Easter Bunny.  At least according to a Germanic legend dating back to the 1500s. The ritual of children preparing nests and eagerly anticipating the arrival of Oster Haas (Easter hare), who delivers brightly colored eggs on Easter morning, has taken place in German-speaking countries for centuries.

In the United States the cottontail rabbit has been designated as the official deliverer of Easter treats. This is easily evidenced by the lyrics in popular holiday tunes such as “Peter Cottontail,” and the presence of that signature fluffy white behind in every commercial rendition of the Easter Rabbit imaginable.

How are the Easter Hare (brown hare) and the Easter Rabbit (cottontail rabbit) equipped for the daunting tasks associated with their profession?

Let’s take a closer look at the unique features of these members of the family Leporidae to find out.

Night Time Is the Right Time
It goes without saying that the job of the Easter Rabbit requires lots of stamina and endurance. This small mammal must accomplish the seemingly impossible task of delivering hundreds of thousands of eggs to children in a single night. Both rabbits and hares are primarily nocturnal creatures, thus able to stay alert and on-task the entire Saturday night prior. Their most productive hours are at dawn and dusk, times of heightened activity and energy for the rabbit and hare. Both species are equipped with large eyes for seeing at night, and their large ears allow them to detect territorial intrusions.

Lickety Split
The forefeet and hindfeet of rabbits and hares have strong claws and a special type of thick hair on the lower surfaces that provides better gripping. Not only does this adaptation aid with running on uneven terrain, it may also allow for the skillful carrying and maneuvering of multiple Easter baskets with minimal slippage (and broken eggs).

With their longer hind legs, European hares have a competitive edge over cottontail rabbits, able to reach a running speed of 50 miles per hour. The agile hare has the speed and skills to outrun and outwit predators. Cottontails move at a swift, but decidedly slower pace than hares, and often rely on surface depressions and burrows to conceal themselves. So far, both the hare and rabbit have managed to elude humans on every Easter Sunday to date—an incredible feat indeed.

Many Wabbits
Though it would completely debunk the theory that there is just one Easter Rabbit, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to assume that egg-delivery is a task shared by a complex, vast network of hundreds, if not thousands of rabbits. There certainly are enough of them to cover all the territory. It’s no secret that rabbits and hares are an exceptionally fertile and active lot, often producing dozens of offspring over the course of lifetime.

Newborn hares would most quickly be able to jump on board and help with Easter tasks. Just minutes after being born, they are fully-furred and able to run around with relative ease. Alternately, newborn rabbits are ill-suited for just about any activity; they are born blind and naked, and require much coddling by their mothers before venturing out in the world.

On the Job Satisfaction
One has to wonder what the glamour and allure in being the Easter Bunny might be. One of the draws may be unlimited quantities food. While children drool over the chocolate eggs and other sweets delivered to them on Easter Sunday, rabbits and hares are no doubt enticed by their favorite edibles—grass and clover—found in many backyards. Perhaps the payoff is the pleasure of seeing the smiles on children’s faces when they discover the colorful Easter eggs that have been left for them. Or maybe it is the honor in upholding tradition, year after year.

Whatever the reward or rewards, you’ve got to commend the Easter Rabbit and the Easter Hare for hundreds of years of excellent service and on a job well done.

Learn more about the Eastern Cottontail »

More about the Desert Cottontail »

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Comments

To Whom It May Concern:

I enjoyed the article.  I have two comments:

    1.  The scientific name of the cottontail correctly written is:
                Oster haas   (underlined or italicized)

    2.  The hair or fur on the underside of the foot (especially
        the hind one is also a good insulation for the foot so
        blood circulation stays strong.

Posted by Harvey D, Blankespoor on 4/18

Thank you for sparing us from all the spammers!

Posted by ruth foster on 4/18

Excuse me, I don’t know what in the world goes on in Germany, nor on other planets.  However, easter bunnies are cute, rabbits are cute, and hares are distinctly NOT cure; in fact, hares are very ugly.  Hence of course the easter bunny is a wabbit.  Honestly! 

In Germany, that Easter Hare is probably descended from the Celtic mother goddess water demon, and morphs into a dragon, because his mother slept with him.  Such is the stuff of German mythology.  I’m telling you.  Don’t you be bringing no German stuff around here!

Posted by Dora Smith on 4/18

FYI, Harvey, Oster Haas is German for Easter hare, not the Latin (scientific name). The Latin name for the European hare is Lepus europaeus (Sorry, I can’t italicise here), whereas the Latin name for our eastern cottentail is Sylvilagus floridanus.

Dora, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Celtic mother goddess not withstanding.

Posted by Steve Anderson on 4/18

We have been feeding goldfinches for years.  Last year, we noticed that all of a sudden their number dwindled to only a few.  This past winter was brutal, with months of snow and below freezing temperatures.  We added a second thistle feeder for the finches and were rewarded with lots of birds.  At one point, as the worst of the weather, we counted 45 on the ground and on the feeders.

The weather changed and became more tolerable, and the number of finches dropped off dramatically.  They had begun to turn the bright yellow and we were looking forward to a very colorful Spring. 

We still get maybe 5-6 males and females, but where we were filling the feeders daily, we are now down to twice per week.

Where did they go?  Why did they abandon us?

Posted by Dorothy Vallerio on 4/19

Interesting and entertaining article! Here in Germany the Osterhase brings eggs, chocolates and treats, and more importantly, gifts to children. The European hare is very large: the first time I saw one across a field I thought it was a small fox!

Posted by Jill on 4/19

Just about the time the American Goldfinches get their summer plumage in the Spring, they migrate to their Summer range. Such a pity for us…

Posted by Lois Haggard on 4/20
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