Have you ever wondered whether rabbits are cousins of rats? Rats belong to a species umbrella titled “rodents.” This, at times, makes one wonder whether rabbits also fall into the same category.
So, in this article, we will define what a rodent is and determine whether a rabbit is one. We will also go over the differences between rabbits and rodents like rats and mice.
By the end, you will know not only how these animals differ but why that matters.
What Is a Rodent?
A rodent is a mammal that shares a taxonomic classification with other mammals like rats and mice. Rodents share the same ancestry across the Rodentia family but belong to distinct species. Squirrels, beavers, and hamsters, alongside groundhogs and chinchillas, are all rodents.
Rodents aren’t obligate pests and can be raised as pets or lab animals. However, some of the more notorious pests, like mice and rats, are referred to as rodents far more often. As a consequence, people think that all rodents are pests.
Rodents form the largest mammal family that includes pests, wild animals, and even helpful animals. But do rabbits belong in this category? Let’s see.
One thing that is evident about rodents is that they share common characteristics across their visual profile. Even the biggest rodent, the capybara, looks like a large rat. Since rabbits also have a similar appearance, people assume they are rodents.
Are Rabbits Considered Rodents?
Rabbits are not considered rodents but were once seen as belonging to the rodent family. Evidence that surfaced later led to their reclassification in 1912. Rabbits are now considered lagomorphs. Rabbits, hares, and pikas make up this family.
And there is sufficient divergence in their ancestry from rodents to warrant a separate classification. This change might make it seem like the classifications are arbitrary.
However, the previous classification was most likely erroneous. Morphological data is cross-referenced with behavioral, genetic, and biochemical observations before taxonomy is determined.
Rodents and rabbits are different in many ways, which is why scientists were forced to reclassify them despite not knowing conclusively whether rodents and rabbits share a common ancestor.
What Is the Difference Between Rabbits and Rodents?
Rabbits are different from rodents in more than just a technical sense. As mentioned earlier, a rabbit’s behavior is different from that of a rodent’s. Here are the key ways in which rabbits differ from rodents.
Rabbits have four incisors in their upper jaw, while rodents have two. Rodents like squirrels and chipmunks have more prominent upper incisors.
But without exception, all rodents have two incisors in the upper jaw, while rabbits have four. They share this trait with hares. This doesn’t matter from a pet-owning perspective but does affect scientists’ view of rodents and rabbits.
Interestingly enough, the teeth in their bottom jaws are similar, and both rodents and lagomorphs have teeth that grow throughout their lives. That’s why a hamster’s chew toys are interchangeable with a rabbit’s toys, even though hamsters are rodents. However, a rabbit’s and a lagomorph’s diets aren’t interchangeable.
Rodents are among the largest mammal families. However, they consistently have two front incisors. If a few rodent species without this characteristic existed, this difference would become dismissable, like fur color. Rats and rabbits can have different colors, but since rats and mice (same family) can have different colors, the color difference isn’t considered binding to the classification.
Rabbits are herbivores, and rodents are generally omnivorous. This is a key difference that matters more to pet owners than to actual scientists.
Technically, a rabbit can be made desperate enough to consume meat matter, but the general preference of rabbits is hay. High-fiber plants are all that rabbits eat, yet mice, rats, and other rodents can eat meat.
While this difference supports the reclassification of rabbits, it cannot be used as a family-defining feature. Capybaras and beavers, for instance, don’t eat meat but are rodents. Still, pet owners should consider the following: Rodents have stronger stomachs.
It is a fact that it takes a stronger gut to digest meat. Animals that can digest meat are far better at accepting a wider variety of treats. Rabbits have very sensitive stomachs, and their diet cannot be swapped with that of a pet squirrel or chinchilla.
Types of Paws
The final difference in characteristics requires a closer look at the animals’ paws. Rabbits have furry paws, while rodents have exposed ones.
A rabbit’s paw pads aren’t technically pads as they are covered in fur. In contrast, most rodents have paws that are exposed and feature a degree of padding.
What is the Lagomorph Family?
“Lagomorph” is derived from ancient Greek words for “hare-like.” Hares previously existed in a classification of their own because they were too different from rodents yet weren’t similar enough to other animals.
They moved by jumping with their strong hind legs, which isn’t a rodent’s way of movement. With the discovery of pikas in the 1980s, the 5,500-year old hare family found a relative. The term “lagomorph” made room for rabbits that share more with hares than with rats and other rodents.
Rabbits and rodents are different in ways that matter to taxonomists as well as pet owners. Still, it should not matter whether rabbits are rodents or not, because their classification doesn’t make them good or bad for you, the context does. There are rodents and lagomorphs that can never be domesticated. Rabbits can be pests to a farmer, and rats can be pets to those who like them. What matters is that your pet is clean, vaccinated, and fed an appropriate diet. And that pests, no matter their classification, are kept away from the things you want to protect.