One of the greatest confusions among rabbit parents is whether these pets are rodents or not. History is partly to blame for this confusion because, before the 20th century, zoologists classified rabbits as rodents. The answer to the question “Are rabbits rodents” is simply NO. Actually, rabbits are members of the Leporidae family in the Lagomorpha order of mammals.
Rabbit aren’t rodents, contrary to what most people think. These pets are mammals belonging to the leporidae family, and they possess characteristics that clearly distinguish them from rodents.
We have dedicated this article to help you understand whether rabbits are rodents or not by explaining critical features and characteristics.
Are Rabbits Rodents?
Most people are still confused on whether rabbits are rodents and which animal family they fall into. Although rabbits were classified under Rodentia before the 20th century, they’re lagomorphs. However, you’ll only start to notice the difference between rodents and lagomorphs once you take a closer look.
Rabbits and rodents have very short breeding cycles and are placental mammals. The Rodentia is the largest group of mammals and includes beavers, chipmunks, hamsters, mice, rats, prairie dogs, and guinea pigs.
Lagomorphs are distinct from rodents in various respects. Some of the differentiating features are that lagomorphs are almost completely herbivorous while rodents eat meat and have four incisor teeth rather than just two. There are also a few differences in the skeletal features of rabbits and rodents.
It took many years for textbooks to catch up with modern taxonomy, which is why rabbits are still considered rodents in schools. It took longer for people to separate rabbits from rodents in popular culture.
What Are the Differences Between Rodents and Rabbits?
The following are a few significant differences between rodents and rabbits.
Both rabbits and rodents eat plant matter. However, rabbits are obligate herbivores, while rodents can eat tubers, grains, nuts, and seeds. And since rabbits are obligate herbivores, their digestive system varies. Rabbit break down their food how hooved mammals like as horses and cows do.
Like hooved mammals, rabbits have a pouch known as cecum at the head of the large intestine containing several beneficial bacteria. These bacteria help break down and ferment cellulose, which is the hardest plant part to digest.
Rabbits do coprophagy, which refers to the re-processing of food for the second time. Rabbit maximizes its digestion by eating its meal twice when consuming plant matter.
After consuming plant matter and digestion, the rabbit passes down a soft black pellet called caecotroph. The rabbit then consumes the caecotroph and re-digested it to obtain the maximum nutrients. The final result is a hard, round pellet that you recognize.
Most mammals, including rodents, have a baculum known as penis bone, which helps the male’s penis stiffen and allows them to mate for a more extended period. Rabbits lack a baculum, and other animals that lack the penis bone include humans, whales, dolphins, marsupials, and horses.
The baculum is a vital adaptation as it allows faster and longer mating. Inserting a bone structure into the genitalia and causing rapid erection is easier. This also helps the animals decrease the threat from predators as they spend less time in exposed mating positions.
Although the rodent and rabbit teeth may appear similar, many differences set the two apart. Actually, differences in their teeth are the main factor differentiating rabbits from the Rodentia.
Rabbits have four incisor teeth
While rodents only have one set of top incisors, rabbits have two. Rabbits and other lagomorphs have the second pair of incisors in their upper jaw. You may not see these second incisors clearly from the front as they’re tiny and tucked behind the larger set of teeth.
Thus, rabbits generally have more incisors than rodents, even though some are very small as they’re about ¼ the size of the first set of incisors. Most people believe that this teeth arrangement helps rabbits bite through vegetation more easily.
The main difference on the teeth’s enamel between rabbits and rodents
Another major difference is that the rabbit incisors have enamel all around, whereas rodents’ incisors have enamel only on one side, the front. It’s dentine that covers the back of rodents’ teeth. In other mammals, including rabbits, dentine is surrounded by front and back enamel to line the pulp cavity.
For rodents, having the enamel only on the front enables the teeth to grind continuously against each other, leading to a sharp and chiseled shape. On the other hand, rabbits never achieve the sharp and chiseled ends like that of rodents because of the enamel on both sides of the teeth.
Rabbits’ incisors are white, unlike rodents, which are orange. The reason behind this is that rabbits lack iron salts.
Important things to consider
It’s important to note that dental problems may occur in this unique set of teeth when malocclusion occurs. You should also be keen to look if your rabbit’s teeth are misaligned, as this can cause dental issues that can only be addressed by a veterinarian experienced in caring for rabbits.
Understanding rodent teeth is crucial to identifying the differences between them and rabbits. Rodents are specialized chewers and are always chewing or gnawing. The rodent’s mouth has a single set of upper and lower incisors, a varying number of premolars & molars, and a diastema. Diastema is the space between the teeth where the plant matter is passed through after snipping off.
Rodents lack canine, even though some are omnivores. They use the incisors to eat meat as these teeth are sharp and chisel-shaped. The outer surface is hard is it’s covered with enamel which changes in color from orange to yellow due to additional irons and minerals.
Unlike in the case of humans, both rabbits’ and rodents’ incisors continue to erupt and grow continuously. This indeterminate growth is due to the incisors being rootless and open.
The size of teeth is worn down by chewing. Rabbit parents need to provide the pets with a chewing toy and file the teeth regularly to prevent them from being too long. When the upper incisors aren’t worn down, they grow into the lower jaw, and this causes a lot of pain.
I hope it’s now crystal clear to you that rabbits aren’t rodents and why this is the case. The earlier zoologists are probably to blame for this confusion. The differences in the number of incisors, male reproduction features, and digestion are the main factors distinguishing rabbits from rodents.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Check out my comprehensive guide on the best rabbit food.