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Rabbits Pikas and Hares: Lagomorpha - Behavior And Reproduction

lagomorphs live babies females

Behavior and reproduction differs widely between rabbits and hares, and pikas, and within each group. Pikas are mainly diurnal, meaning they are mostly active during the day. Rabbits and hares are generally nocturnal, meaning they are mostly active at night. Some species are crepuscular (kri-PUS-kyuh-lur), meaning they are most active at dawn and twilight. Various environmental conditions and the effects of nearby humans may cause species to alternate between nocturnal, diurnal, and crepuscular activities.

Pikas have several types of social structures. Those that live in rocky areas of North America are unsocial, with males and females having separate territories and rarely interacting except to mate. Pikas in rocky areas of Asia live in pairs within a communal territory. Burrowing pikas, in contrast, are extremely social animals. Families of up to thirty individuals live within burrows and there are about ten family groups within a territory. There is a lot of interaction between family members, including grooming, playing, and sleeping together.

Rabbits and hares have similar differences in social organization. Most rabbits and hares in the wild live solitary lives, although they will often graze together, and are not territorial. The European rabbit is very social. They live in "warrens" or groups of six to twelve adults controlled by a dominant male. The warren consists of a maze of burrows and chambers.

Pikas breed in the spring, with peak breeding occurring in May and early June. Female pikas reach sexual maturity at about one year of age. The gestation period, the time the females carry their young in the womb, is about thirty days. Litters consist of two to six babies and are cared for exclusively by the mother. Females breed for a second time shortly after the first litter is born and usually produce a second litter before the end of summer. Babies are born blind and nearly hairless but grow quickly, reaching adult size in forty to fifty days.

Rabbits breed throughout the year, depending on climate. Generally the breeding season in the wild is spring and summer. Females have multiple litters per year with litter sizes of two to eight babies on average, although it can be as high as fifteen babies. The gestation period is twenty-five to fifty days, with the longer periods occurring in hares.

There is extremely limited parental care of babies in lagomorphs. Most mothers visit the young in their nest once a day, usually between midnight and 5:00 A.M. for a short period of nursing. In rabbits and hares, the young are weaned, stop feeding on their mother's milk, at about one or two months of age. They reach sexual maturity, able to reproduce, in four to six months.

FROM RODENTS TO PRIMATES

Lagomorphs were originally classified in the order rodentia, or rodents, until 1912, when researchers recognized that they had several distinct features lacking in rodents.

These features are:

  • Lagomorphs have four, rather than two, incisors in the upper jaw.
  • The male's scrotum is in front of the penis.
  • The penis has no bone as it does with a rodent.
  • Lagomorphs re-digest certain soft feces to obtain nutrients.

In the early twentieth century, the order Lagomorpha was established with two families, Leporidae (rabbits and hares) and Ochotonidae (pikas). There are about 91 living species of lagomorphs. Genetic testing done in the 1990s show lagomorphs are more closely related to primates, such as apes, and tree shrews than they are to rodents.

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