Rabbits are so cute and fluffy. It seems hard to believe they were once classified as rodents. Maybe you are having second thoughts about adopting a little bunny because you don’t like rats or mice, and you are worried they may have too many similarities.
But first things first, are rabbits mammals?
Rabbits are classified as mammals based on a few characteristics. They are warm-blooded and have backbones. Rabbits also have fur and give birth to live kits (babies). They have mammary glands that produce milk to feed their young and a higher functioning brain.
Are you interested in learning more about rabbits and their place in the animal kingdom hierarchy? Then this detailed guide is perfect for you.
What Category of Animal Is a Rabbit?
A rabbit is a small mammal that belongs to the order of Lagomorpha (meaning hare-shaped). They belong to the mammal family Leporidae, which also includes hares.
This category contains over 305 breeds of rabbits, which are descendants of the European rabbit species Oryctolagus cuniculus.
Here are a few similar characteristics of rabbits and hares:
- Long ears
- Short tails
- Strong and muscular hind legs
Pikas, which are small mammals that belong to the same family, have smaller and rounder ears. Their tails are not external, and their hind legs are not as strong as those of a rabbit or hare.
Lagomorphs also reproduce at a higher rate than other animals and have many litters throughout the year. This is to ensure their survival in the wild since rabbits, pikas, and hares are prey animals.
Sadly, almost 30% of lagomorph species are endangered. These endangered lagomorphs include:
- 4 types of pikas: Hoffmann’s pika, Helan Shan pika, Lli pika, and Koslov’s pika
- 2 types of hares: Hispid hare and Jameson’s red rock hare
- 2 Type of cottontails: Eastern cottontail and New England cottontail
- 2 types of domestic rabbits: American Blue rabbit and white Beveren
What Makes a Rabbit a Mammal?
There are a number of characteristics that classify certain animals as mammals (class mammalia).
The most prominent characteristics are that they are warm-blooded (endothermic) and have a backbone or spinal column.
Let’s take a look at some other characteristics that make a rabbit a mammal:
- Has fur covering their body
- Can sweat through sweat glands
- Produces milk through specialized glands called mammary glands
- Has specialized teeth
- Has a 4-chamber heart
- Has 3 middle ear bones
How Are Animals Classified?
Carolus Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, created the Linnaeus Method, also known as Linnaean Taxonomy, in the 1700s, which is used to name and classify different species of animals. This makes it easier for scientists to group rabbits and animals together and study them.
Animals are classified by looking at the differences and similarities between them. The system is made up of a hierarchy that consists of multiple groups known as a taxon. Each taxon is based on similarities between the obvious physical traits of animals.
The hierarchical list of animals is as follows:
So for domestic rabbits, it reads as follows:
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Lagamorpha
- Family: Leporidae
- Genus: Lepus
- Species: Oryctolagus cuniculus
Here’s a look at some of the various traits of animals:
- Body covering: Hair, fur, feathers, shells, and scales
- Body shape: radially symmetrical, bilaterally symmetrical, or asymmetrical
- Type of appendages: fins, arms, legs, wings, or tails
- Type of movement: Swim, fly, crawl or walk
- Habitat: Live on land or in water
The animals are then divided into two main groups, known as:
- Vertebrates — animals that have a backbone, including fish, amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles
- Invertebrates — animals that don’t have a backbone, such as a jellyfish, slugs, worms, spiders, and crustaceans
What Are the Different Groups of Mammals?
Mammals are also grouped based on how they reproduce. Let’s take a closer look at some of these groups:
Viviparous mammals give birth to live young just like humans do. The young develop in the womb with a placenta and include animals such as rabbits, cats, dogs, and horses.
Monotreme mammals are animals that have bird-like and reptilian characteristics like laying eggs.
Today, there are only two egg-laying mammals left on the earth: the platypus and the echidna.
Marsupial mammals give birth to underdeveloped embryos, which need to stay in the mother’s pouch (in the front of her body) after birth. Once in the pouch, they will feed and continue to grow until they are strong enough to leave the pouch.
Kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas fall under this group of mammals.
Placental mammals develop in their mother’s uterus and receive nutrients from the placenta. Mammals from this group include humans, elephants, and dolphins (to name a few).
Did you know: Whales are the largest mammals to live in water.
Are Rabbits Rodents?
Until the early 20th century, rabbits were classified under Rodentia (rodents), which includes rats and mice. After further studies, rabbits and hares have since been classed under the Leporidae order of mammals.
Even though rabbits and rodents have some similarities, two obvious differences set them apart, such as:
Different Digestive Systems
Your bun’s cecum sits at the head of the large intestine, which contains bacteria that break down the cellulose in plants. Rabbits must digest their food twice to fully absorb nutrients from the vegetation they eat.
Your bun absorbs these nutrients by eating their cecotropes or caecotrophs (nutrient-rich fecal droppings). This is known as coprophagy, and only some rodents do this.
Different Incisor Teeth
Your floppy-eared friend has 4 white incisor teeth, with a set of small peg-like teeth behind the top incisors. These extra teeth help your bun chew through vegetation.
Rodents, on the other hand, only have 2 incisor teeth as they are gnawing animals. Unlike rabbits, their teeth are orange in color.
Is a Rabbit a Reptile or a Mammal?
A rabbit is classified as a warm-blooded mammal under the Leporidae order of mammals.
Are All Rodents Mammals?
All rodents are mammals. Rodentia is the largest group of mammals that exist, which include mice, rats, squirrels, prairie dogs, porcupines, beavers, guinea pigs, and hamsters. Almost all non-flying mammals are rodents.
My Last Bunny Thoughts
Isn’t it wonderful that you have more in common with your bunny than you thought because you are both mammals? While rabbits may not be as attentive to their young as humans are, they do produce milk to feed them just like we do.
Your floppy-eared friend is also known as one of the cutest mammals in the world and for good reason. They have velvety fur and small twitching noses, and they are very intelligent.