With so many cute and furry animals going into hibernation, it is sometimes hard to keep them all straight. Yes, most know that bears hibernate in the winter, but what about the small little furry pets like rabbits? Do bunnies hibernate?
Dr. Jess explains it all below:
In this article, I’m going to walk you through what hibernation is. Why do some animals hibernate? And do bunnies hibernate?
But first, let’s learn more about rabbits and what hibernation is and why animals do it. Then all of this will make more sense… I promise!
What are Bunnies?
They are small mammals that hop around from A to B.
They are commonly seen as pets with their cute, furry exterior and silly personalities.
They come in many colors, shapes, and sizes, most commonly seen in shades of white, brown, black, and patches or combinations of those colors.
Sometimes, certain rabbit breeds can even change colors in the winter to better blend into their surroundings!
They have a large ear for their body size and even have long-eared varieties with even larger and longer droopy ears.
They have long incisors (front teeth) that are constantly growing and needing to be filed either naturally or by the help of some human intervention.
What is Hibernation?
Hibernation is an animal’s innate response to survival.
Hibernation is due to the changing of seasons (temperature, sunlight, weather conditions) and changes in the availability of resources, mostly food sources.
It is a state of prolonged inactivity of the animal, along with all the chemical reactions inside an animal’s body slowing down to preserve internal resources and energy.
Because of this hibernating animals have decreased body temperatures, slower metabolism, slower respiratory rate, and decreased heart rates.
Some hibernating animals do move around a bit, depending on temperature and outside weather conditions, but they do not perform important life activities such as mating or feeding because that costs the animal energy that is in short supply.
Do Rabbits Hibernate?
No species of rabbit is known to hibernate any time throughout the year, including wintertime.
During the colder winter months, bunnies ingest more coarse, wood-based food sources (versus sweeter, juicier meals – even tomatoes!), such as tree bark, twigs, and conifer (pine tree) needles, sometimes even digging and foraging under snow to find it.
Most wild rabbits are most active foraging for food during dusk or dawn as the dim light reduces their chances of being seen by a predator. This is known as a crepuscular animal.
How Do Rabbits Survive Without Hibernating?
Many animals hibernate in the winter because food becomes more scarce and there are typically harsher weather conditions, both of which can kill them.
But because food is normally available year-round for rabbits, this act of hibernation in not completely necessary and therefore has not evolved in the species as the species has evolved to what it is today.
Rabbits stay in their home territory and don’t move much.
As long as a wild rabbit has enough food to build a layer of insulating fat in its body a grow a thick fur coat, it can survive in the cold winter.
As gross as it sounds to us humans, wild rabbits will also ingest feces when food is scarce to potentially add calories, nutrition, and even some vitamins (especially vitamin B!) back into their diet. Kinda gross, right?!?
Where Do Rabbits Live in The Winter?
Rabbits spend much of their remaining time after foraging, sleeping under vegetation or burrows to conserve energy and keep out the cold.
The cold weather leads to a decrease in vegetation density, trees losing leaves and branches. This means predators can spot wild rabbits much more easily.
And you can probably believe that it is not easy surviving in twigs and branches, it’s so easy to be spotted by something that wants to eat you for a snack!
Therefore, rabbits must find shelter where they can hide from predators and eat without being hunted.
This is why many rabbits find burrows or holes to hang out in during winter months.
They dig holes and find warm, safe, tight spaces, in hollow logs, rock piles, and leaf or brush piles.
Some rabbit breeds also change their coat color so that they blend in the gray and white landscape of the snowy, desolate winter landscape.
Do Domesticated Rabbits Hibernate?
Because rabbits don’t hibernate, don’t expect your pet bunny to slow down and go into hibernation during the winter months either. It won’t happen.
In fact, some pet bunnies like the cold so much and may have increased energy and playfulness in the winter! They don’t call them the ‘zoomies’ for nothing!!!!
Many pet rabbit owners are unaware, but rabbits are much more in likely to have issues with heat and heat exhaustion than cold-related hibernation or health issues.
So make sure to give your pet plenty of access to cool places and fresh water all summer long.
Why Don’t Rabbits Hibernate?
Because rabbits are somewhat adapted to find enough food and stay warm in winter, they can stay active enough that their bodies do not need to go into ‘power save‘ mode like other animals that hibernate must do.
Remember, the whole point of hibernation is a survival mechanism for animals that can’t find enough resources to survive the cold winter months.
Because bunnies typically have food available to them year-round, even in the middle of cold winters, and they have the ability to grow a thickened fur coat, there is no need for the species to go into hibernation.
Because trees and brush may lose their leaves in the cold months, it is likely easier for predators to spot rabbits as eat them as a tasty snack.
Therefore, rabbits are much more likely to hide in burrows and under plant materials to stay warm and safe in the winter’s cold.