Wildlife

11 fun lagomorph facts for Lunar New Year

It’s the Year of the Rabbit! Here are Can Geo’s favourite facts on the taxonomic order that houses rabbits, hares and pikas 

  • Jan 22, 2023
  • 656 words
  • 3 minutes
We're entering the year of the rabbit! (Photo: Leo Junghans/Can Geo Photo Club)
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Do rabbits really love carrots? Is Pikachu actually based on a pika? January 22 marks this year’s Lunar New Year, ushering in the Year of the Rabbit. Lunar New Year is a time-honored festival celebrated in numerous countries in Asia, including China, Vietnam, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Philippines and Indonesia, as well as by each nation’s respective diaspora here in Canada. Each lunar year corresponds to one of the 12 animals that form the Chinese zodiac. This year’s star, the rabbit — along with its fluffy cousins, the hare and the pika — belongs to the lagomorph taxonomical order. How much do you really know about them? Read on for Can Geo’s 11 favourite lagomorph facts.

Fig the rabbit, beloved pet of Can Geo digital editor Madigan Cotterill. (Photo: Madigan Cotterill)
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1. Lagomorphs have no paw pads! Instead, the bottoms of their paws are entirely covered with fur. Built for strength and durability rather than speed, lagomorphs feet are cushioned with a layer of thick fur.

 

2. Arctic hares (ᐅᑭᐅᖅᑕᖅᑐᒥ ᐅᑲᓕᖅᐸᒃ or Ukaliq in Inuktitut) can hop upright on their hind legs like kangaroos and reach speeds of up to 48 kilometres per hour!

 

3. Pet bunnies may be one of the world’s cuddliest companions, but it wasn’t always that way. Prior to 600 A.D., rabbit meat was a popular choice of protein during lent, particularly in southern France. As a result, rabbits were bred to be bigger and fatter to get more meat. In the 16th century, different breeds were discovered and eventually bred for competitions and exhibitions in the 19th century. Today, pet rabbits are one of the world’s most popular pets and can make great companions when properly cared for.

 

4. Lagomorphs get eaten by everything! They serve as prey for predator species around the world, from carnivores (think lynx, foxes and coyotes) to predatory birds such as owls, hawks and eagles. And, of course, rabbit is also a popular protein for humans.

This American pika was photographed high in the vast flowery meadows of British Columbia. (Photo: Brett Brown/Can Geo Photo Club)
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5. There are very few places that are lagomorph-free zones. The only place that you won’t find them in are Antarctica, Madagascar or Iceland. 

 

6. While rabbits and hares are known for being silent, the tiny pika can be quite noisy, making high-pitched chirping and squeaking noises to protect its territory. Fun fact: these calls are regionally variable as dialects. So a pika from Utah sounds different from its Oregonian cousin.

 

7. As pikas do not hibernate, they make “haypiles” by laying out vegetation in the sun to dry, which they then collect and carry back to their homes to store for use during winter.

 

8. It’s a record! An Arctic hare on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, was recorded travelling a whopping 388 kilometres over just 49 days. The long-distance runner was tracked by researchers who wondered how far hares travel from their summer feeding grounds in the north to their winter destinations in the south.

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This snowshoe hare was photographed in the Ottawa Valley in the depths of winter. (Photo: Jim Cumming/Can Geo Photo Club)
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9. Contrary to popular belief, carrots are not actually that good for rabbits. Because of their high sugar content, carrots consumed in high quantities can be harmful to rabbits and can cause health issues like obesity, gut problems and dental issues. Carrots should only be given to rabbits as treats and no more than one-quarter of a carrot.  

 

10. Lagomorphs were classified as rodents until the early 20th century. Now, scientists don’t consider rodents to be even close relatives of rabbits, hares and pikas — and a lot is still unclear about their evolutionary origin, despite having a plentiful fossil record. We do know that the earliest lagomorphs originated in Asia — in China and Mongolia.

 

11. And the age-old question. Is Pikachu based on a pika? Unfortunately, not. Its name comes from the Japanese words “pika” (the sound an electric spark makes) and “chu” (the sound a mouse makes). The game’s creators revealed in 2018 that the most famous Pokémon is actually based on a mere rodent — the squirrel.  

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