Lagomorphs have two families: Leporidae (rabbits and hares) and Ochotonidae (pikas). Lagomorphs range in size from pikas, which are six inches in length and 3.5 ounces in weight, to hares which are almost twenty-eight inches in length and 10 pounds in weight. Most lagomorphs have coats that are brownish or reddish brown above and lighter brown to white below. There are color differences according to species, location, and season. Lagomorphs are well adapted to a herbivorous diet. Rabbits and hares are not known to store food, while pikas not only store food but also dry or cure vegetation for winter. Rabbits and pikas burrow or inhabit abandoned burrows, and hares shelter in natural depressions.
Physical Characteristics of Rabbits, Hares, and Pikas
Lagomorph incisor teeth are long and grow throughout life. They are extremely effective for severing plant stems and for gnawing on bark. Behind the long incisors is a tiny peglike incisor. There are no canine teeth. Cheek teeth, located further back in the jaw, also grow throughout the animal's life, wearing away as they grind abrasive vegetation. The upper tooth rows are more widely separated than the lower rows, and chewing is done with a transverse movement. Vegetation passes through the small intestine, which has a spiral valve, providing greater surface area for digestion. A large cecum is located at the point of attachment of the large intestine, which contains bacteria that aid in digestion. Lagomorphs have the ability to produce two types of fecal material, one that is wet and eaten again for further nutrient absorption, and one that is dry and discarded. The bones of the hind limb are fused where they move against the calcaneuni, resulting in increased leverage in locomotion. Lagomorphs are digitigrade, with five digits on the forefoot and five on the hind foot. Rabbits and hares have a rudimentary tail, while pikas have none at all. Folds of skin on the lips can meet behind the incisors so that gnawing can take place with the mouth cavity closed. Other flaps of skin are able to close the nostrils. The skull is peculiarly fenestrated. The ears are usually long. The testes are located in front of the penis rather than behind. Rabbits and hares usually vocalize only when frightened or injured. Pikas express themselves with a whistle or bark and a chattering call. Lagomorphs can yield two or more litters during each breeding season, with two or three litters common among hares and pikas and three to six among rabbits. Litter size ranges between two and eight. Young rabbits are altricial and are cared for in a nest. Hares are born in the open and are precocial, able to run soon after birth.
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