The Easter Bunny – Really?

Back on the 2nd of February , I de-mystified GroundHog’s Day for you. Big fan of the rodent – just not his or her holiday. Today we tackle the Easter Bunny from a Lagomorph’s (taxonomic order including rabbits and hares) point of view. Later in the year I will explain why Guinea Pigs should also have their own holiday.


To start with – this is a non-denominational blog neither leaning towards the bunny, nor the chocolate easter egg. Disclaimer – DO NOT feed your pet bunny chocolate under any circumstances. Simply put – in ancient times (before the 1970’s) and in the ancient world (before the 1960’s), the rabbit has long been a symbol of fertility. The rabbit is known for its reproductive prowess. In Europe prior to the introduction of Christianity the ancient pagans already had their own springtime festivals, as did almost all other ancient peoples. Because spring is the time, after the harshness of winter that the world begins to bloom once more, it is seen as a time of replenishing and renewal, birth and rebirth, fertility. So there you have it – the rabbit symbolizes rebirth.

Rabbits and Hares – ok – these are two different animals completely and we will not get into the Pikas of which are cute but will add to the potential confusion. Hares and Jackrabbits belong to the family Lepus (Night of the Lepus was a great film from the 70’s where giant mutated jackrabbits turned over trailer homes. This of course was based on the novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit), and their young are called leverets. Hares do not bear young below ground but in a shallow depression which is why people so often come across baby hares while meandering through fields of wildflowers (when was the last time you meandered anywhere?).

All rabbits (except the cottontail rabbits) live underground in burrows or warrens, while hares (and cottontail rabbits) live in simple nests above the ground, and usually do not live in groups. Rabbit young are called kits. Rabbits are clearly distinguished from hares in that rabbits are altricial, having young that are born blind and hairless. In contrast, hares are generally born with hair and are able to see (precocial).

Hares are generally larger than rabbits, with longer ears, and have black markings on their fur. Hares have not been domesticated, while rabbits are often kept as house pets. Hares can run at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour – could you handle this running around your home? No, that’s why rabbits are pets, not hares. 

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Invasive Pests: Rabbits have been a source of environmental problems when introduced into the wild by humans. As a result of their appetites, and the rate at which they breed, wild rabbit depredation can be problematic for agriculture. Rabbits in Australia are considered to be such a pest that land owners are legally obliged to control them

Cultural Folklore – rabbits and hares seem to play a role in many cultures beliefs beyond the chocolate egg theory.

  • Somewhere in Central Africa, “Kalulu” the rabbit is widely known as a tricky character, getting the better of bargains.
  • In Aztec mythology, a pantheon of four hundred rabbit gods known as Centzon Totochtin led by Ometotchtli or Two Rabbit, represented fertility, parties, and drunkenness. This last part probably led to that particular myth.
  • A  Korean myth presents rabbits living on the moon making rice cakes. That’s one handy space rabbit.
  • Associated with the Chinese New Year (2014 is Year of the Horse), Rabbits are one of the twelve celestial animals in the Chinese Zodiac. It is noted that the Vietnamese lunar new year replaced the rabbit with a cat in their calendar, as rabbits did not inhabit Vietnam. Thirteen years ago, a new species of rabbit was discovered in Vietnam, the Annamite rabbit – time for them to change their calendars back.

Comments are closed.

Search Blog & Website
Subscribe to Houston Zoo News
Get the latest stories and updates from the Zoo in your inbox! Find out how: Houston Zoo News
Houston Zoo Facebook Page