Animals are fascinating, and the differences between them are what make them so interesting to many people.
As a rabbit owner, I often wonder why my bunnies are the way they are.
I always encourage my kids to ask questions too, and one day, my youngest asked me: why do rabbits have short tails?
When I don’t have clear answers for him, we research together to find the truth. Here’s what we discovered.
Rabbits have short tails to help with survival. Tails help with balance, confusing predators, and warning other bunnies, but the shorter length helps the rabbit get into its warren quicker. A longer tail would provide the predators something to grab onto.
The whole tail topic is complex, so read on for more details.
Table of Contents
Why Do Rabbits Have Short Tails?
The four main reasons bunnies have short tails boil down to:
- Providing a quicker escape into warrens
- Confusing predators with flicking
- Warning other rabbits in the area
- Help keep balance while bounding away
Its tail has evolved over hundreds and thousands of years into the intentional design it sits at currently.
It’s not random; the short tail is perfect for helping bunnies survive in the wild.
In this section, we’ll go over each of these reasons in a bit more detail and how the tail helps.
Quicker Escape From Predators
Rabbits live in warrens, often described as holes in the ground with ample plant coverage.
At our house in Michigan, we have quite a few patches of low-growing trees and bushes.
Wild rabbits love the low coverage and gid out their homes there. I’ll see the bunnies hopping there early in the morning and at sunset.
As such, they’re safest when their whole body is inside the hole.
Predators will reach into the hole as best they can, but if they can’t grab onto anything, they’ll give up and go away.
Longer tails are a liability in this instance.
The split-second extra it takes a longer tail to get into the warren is often just long enough for the predator to grab and drag the rabbit back out.
Over many years, rabbits with longer tails died off for this exact reason, leaving the shorter-tailed rabbits to breed.
In time, all the long-tailed rabbits died off, leaving them with the short tails we know and love today.
On the underside of the rabbit’s tail is a white piece of fur.
This isn’t just to help it look cute to us; many prey animals in the wild also have this feature (the white-tailed deer notable among them).
Rabbits are fast; some have a top speed of 25 mph!
Predators are fast, though, too. They can catch rabbits if they manage to predict where the bunny goes and catch it en route to its warren.
Predicting is the key.
Predators are bigger and may run faster, but they can’t turn as well as rabbits.
They need to be where the rabbit will be and predict where it will go.
The short, white tail provides an eye-catching color for the hunters to follow.
Rabbits will flick the tail as it escapes, moving it in odd directions to throw the predator off.
It’s quite effective at distracting the predators.
At its least effective, it’ll make the predator hesitate for a split second, giving the rabbit enough time to escape.
At its most effective, the tail flicks will send the predators in a completely wrong direction.
To catch a rabbit, many predators need to surprise the rabbit during its munching or drinking.
Surprise is deadly to the bunny, which is why they have their eyes on the side of their head.
Rabbits will also use body language to communicate with each other when out and about.
The tail is one of these tools.
If a rabbit sees a predator, it’ll show the white part of its tail.
The same attractive color used to trick a chasing animal is visible enough to catch the eye of others, alerting the entire fluffle to the potential danger and thwarting the hungry animal’s intent.
Help Keep Balance
Humans are unique among many animal species in that we don’t have tails at all.
Most animals have tails for at least one common reason:
While rabbits aren’t known for their climbing (although it’s not impossible), they run at a frantic speed.
On top of this, they can turn on a dime.
Even though their tails are short, the muscles in the tail help them adjust their balance to absorb and turn without falling.
Even a small fall would prove deadly in a chase, but the tails are there to help with it all.
Read more about escaping in our article on if rabbits run or hop.
Tips For Caring For Rabbits’ Tails
Rabbit tails don’t need much specific care, and bunnies are good at self-grooming in many cases.
Still, as an owner who wants to do the best they can for their pet, there are a few things to do to keep your pet’s tail in good working order.
Use Pet Wipes To Keep It Clean
Rabbits will keep their fur clean through grooming, but it’s still not a bad idea to help them out, especially if they’re on their own.
Rabbits often groom each other as part of their social interaction. When they’re on their own, step up and provide some grooming of your own.
Use some rabbit-specific or small-animal-safe pet wipes to clean the tail.
We like the one linked above to Amazon and use it on our pets.
Don’t press too hard, and don’t do it if the bunny freaks out.
Tails are sensitive areas and make them nervous.
Also, remember not to wash the tail or them with water.
Rabbits don’t do well with water.
It drops their body temperatures and could make them sick.
In the worst cases, it’ll kill them.
Pet wipes are the way to go.
Check For Injury
Another thing to do is to check it semi-regularly for injury.
While you may notice injury if the fur seems displaced or pushed up, it’s not always clear from afar.
By getting in a little closer, you’ll see if there’s a cut or bump on the tail.
Then, take action by sanitizing the area and keeping it clean.
Or, if it’s bad enough, a trip to the vet is in order.
Rabbits are pretty protective of their tails, but sometimes they’ll get scratched on something, especially if the bunny is spooked and runs off in a panic.
Rabbits will do their best to keep it clean, but helping them with wipes and other treatments is a good idea too.
Along the same lines as above, keeping your bunny dry is a great idea at any point.
If the tail gets too wet for whatever reason, take a gentle towel and dry it off.
My bunny was hopping around our house when someone knocked on our door to visit.
It got spooked and hopped away quickly, straight into our dog’s water bowl.
It didn’t like that, so I took a gentle towel and dried the tail off.
Sure, it was cute, but it wasn’t good for the pet.
What Is A Rabbit’s Tail Called?
A rabbit’s tail is traditionally called a scut. This term is used to specifically refer to the short tuft of fur on their backs. Scut is the word for a deer’s tail as well.
Why Do Rabbits Have Fluffy Tails?
Rabbits have fluffy tails to help protect the tail skin and vertebrae from predators. The tail is the area a predator is most likely to get. The fur provides an extra layer of protection from injury and will sometimes trick the predator into thinking it got the rabbit when it just got the fur.
Injuries in rabbits are dangerous things, especially in the wild.
In some cases, a family of rabbits will oust an injured bunny to prevent predators from sniffing around their home.
Tails stick out the rest of their bodies and offer a delicious target for predators to grab.
The fur on a rabbit’s body usually sticks closer to the body and provides insulation and water resistance.
But the tail, in many species, will be thicker and fluffier to offer the extra protection we talked about.
Interestingly, pet rabbits tend to have thicker and fluffier coats than wild rabbits.
This seems odd. Wouldn’t wild rabbits want thicker coats for more warmth in cold weather?
Yes, but the truth is, our pet rabbits’ coats are less effective at protecting the rabbit from injury overall.
For one, they don’t need the protection, and over generations, this has relaxed their need to grow tougher fur.
For another, we like fluffier rabbits more. They’re cuter to us!
Whether intentional or not, rabbits with fluffier coats are bred more often, resulting in a sort of forced evolutionary variant in rabbit breeds.
Do Rabbits’ Tails Extend?
Rabbits usually keep their tails tucked in close to their body, but when they’re relaxed and feel safe, they’ll extend their tails out. The tail is still shorter than most other animals’ tails, but it’s surprising how long they can get.
When it is extended, the tails show their full length more easily.
The number of vertebrae and comparative length is less than other animals.
Take a look at this chart to see how it compares with other animals:
|Number of Vertebrae
Do Baby Rabbits Have Long Tails?
Baby rabbits have a short tail, just like the adult rabbit. Some people think it’s longer at first between of the lack of fur in baby rabbits. The fur hides the real length of the tail, making it seem shorter, but the length is overall the same percentage of the body from birth to adulthood.
Are All Rabbit Tails White Underneath?
All rabbit species have traditionally white fur on the underside of their tails. This alerts their fellow rabbits to the presence of predators and confuses predators as they escape. Some rabbits don’t have white fur, but it’s not a species issue; rather, it’s a variant caused by a recessive gene.
Some rabbits are bred for their unique tail colorations; this often makes the breeding line more expensive than traditional pet rabbits.
Can A Rabbit Lose Its Tail?
Unlike some reptiles, rabbits shouldn’t lose their tail. If they do, it’s because a predator or injury caused it to fall off. A lost tail is a major injury, so if it happens to your pet, a vet needs to get involved right away.