Being a rabbit owner or a rabbit lover will stir you to want to have certain levels or strata of insight and knowledge on rabbits – (as it’s a law that “Man loves to take in knowledge on what he delights in or what affects him) their likes, their foods, how they react and.
Most importantly, how they survive! Their well being, how they respond to the weather conditions and rapid unpredictable climatic changes in this fast-paced world.
In this article, I’ll zero in on rabbits and how they get by during winter.
How do rabbits survive in winter?
For us humans we’d probably keep our minds on staying warm, Indoors with our chimneys, hot tea/coffee, doubling our clothes, using cardigans, probably trying as much as we can to stay indoors and keep warm.
So how do rabbits get by during winter?
Do they HIBERNATE as polar bears do?
If not, how do they get by in winter?
You’ll need to read this article till the end to find the dots of your i’s and the crosses of your t’s.
(As touching on this topic of discussion, you’ll need to understand that this article is widely relatable to WILD RABBITS ie rabbits without owners as rabbit owners can provide and influence the necessary conditions for their rabbits to go through winter.
So wherever rabbits are mentioned in this article, it should be noted that wild rabbits are implied unless stated otherwise – even as this piece is helpful to all who are interested in the well being of rabbits during winter whether wild or domestic).
What Does It Mean For Rabbit to Hibernate?
Going into the subject matter at hand with the assumption that you already understand the term “Hibernation” or what it entails is a wrong approach to learning.
Whilst learning, avoid assumptions as much as possible. That’s a Principle you can use as you engage in this piece and other areas of life.
Hibernation is a state of metabolic declination or depression and heavily minimized activity engaged in by certain animal species (not all) usually during the winter months to conserve energy as sufficient food is not readily available during winter.
Simply, it’s a state of inactivity that certain animals assume to enable them to pass through the winter which is characterized by slow heart rate, slow breathing, low metabolic rate and low body temperature to mention a few, majorly for energy conservation.
Hibernation takes place as an adaptation in certain animals like rodents and bears majorly for energy conservation when sufficient food is not available.
For this to be achieved, an endothermic animal reduces its metabolic rate and body temperature. This phenomenon can last for days, weeks or even months depending on certain factors like:
– The body of the animal.
– The time of the year this process is undertaken.
– The species and the temperature of the surrounding (ambient temperature).
Before entering hibernation, animals as a matter of necessity store up enough energy to last them through the duration or period in which they assume this state of inactivity called Hibernation which I stated could span into all through the winter months.
This phenomenon is initiated by certain “Hormones and Blood chemicals” that trigger the dormancy process.
Does Rabbits Hibernate In Water?
The Hibernation Process does not just kick start reflexively or at any time. It is triggered by certain blood chemicals and hormones.
So for an animal to hibernate, it must possess these hormones that trigger the dormancy process. Once an animal does not possess these, it can’t Hibernate.
Talking then about rabbits… Rabbits do not have the biological ability to conserve energy by the agency of long periods of dormancy because they do not possess the hormones and blood chemicals which can trigger the dormancy process as it happens in hibernating warm-blooded animals.
Does that mean…?
That means rabbits do not hibernate. They do not have the body functions that enable hibernation to occur so the process isn’t a natural one for them.
Are Rabbits Affected By Harsh Conditions In Winter?
There are no known rabbit species that hibernate during the winter months. Instead of hibernating in the winter, they stay active taking short naps, sourcing food and eating all winter long.
And that does not necessarily mean that the harsh weather and difficult conditions of the winter do not affect them as there’s a general decline in food availability which also affects rabbits as well as other animals that don’t hibernate because they feed majorly on vegetation which is buried under snow away from the reach of rabbits.
And also, apart from the issue of scarcity of food, rabbits do not possess a fur that’s thick enough to completely insulate and keep them warm during the intensely cold and freezing days of the winter.
So what do rabbits do when it’s too cold?
When it’s too cold, rabbits often find shelter in man-made structures preferably holes and underground dens lined up with hay and twigs for insulation and warmth.
Asides from all these, rabbits also have to worry about predators as they have a comfy and warm place to stay in winter not to talk of a hiding place. The exposure of rabbits to predators in the winter is high.
So though rabbits don’t undergo the process of hibernation in winter, they are not exempted from the “Wails of survival” in the winter months.
Why Does Rabbits Sleep In Winter?
Many animals like bears and some rodents hibernate during the winter majorly because the harsh weather conditions, scarcity of food and massive discharge of energy needed to live through the winter days can kill them.
But rabbits have food available to them all through the year, so sourcing it in winter might be a little bit more difficult.
And although rabbits do not hibernate in winter, they cumulatively get more sleep than humans in a day because unlike humans, rabbits get to sleep by napping for at least 25-30 minutes throughout the whole day which could sum up to a mind-blowing 8 HOURS OF SLEEP IN A DAY!
Yes, you’ll agree with me that it’s quite a lot of sleep for a rabbit. But then again, after the next paragraph, you’ll see why rabbits must sleep this much.
And this is largelyly because, for every animal that does not hibernate, a large expanse of energy is released and used up for metabolic activities, searching for food and other energy-consuming activities.
So rabbits would need to sleep this much to conserve energy to run the day to day activities in the harsh seasons of winter.
NOTE THAT: This cannot be regarded as hibernation.
How Do Rabbits Adjust Their Activities Levels In Winter?
Rabbits may not hibernate as proven countlessly in this piece, but regardless they will need to conserve energy like it or not to enable them to survive the harsh conditions of the winter and this can largely be achieved by adapting to the changes in the environment and making necessary adjustments activities being carried out.
All animals that endure the winter rather than sleep through it would need special adaptations and changes to survive the “cold days”. And rabbits must be prepared for these changes before and after winter.
These preparations and adjustments are to ensure rabbits are safe, and warm and ultimately that they survive the winter. Some of the ways they adjust their activity levels to achieve this go thus:
- Rabbits would tend to sleep more than normal in the winter because they need to conserve energy for metabolic activities and movement to source food (food foraging) which they usually do at night when it’s so cold.
- They tend to drop all unnecessary engagements that’ll involve large releases of energy without a just cause attached to it.
- Rabbits would likely begin to eat plants they’d leave alone in other seasons because there’s scarcity; they have to settle for availability rather than personal preferences. They’ll begin to consume woody plants like pine needles, evergreen bushes, twigs and even bark.
- They could go as far as eating their poo. It’s an excellent source of vitamin B produced when food passes through the large intestine by a bacteria in the large intestine of rabbits.
How Do Rabbits Adapt To Winter for Survival?
Adaptations in animals are like natural backup plans that animals exhibit to ensure an increase in the chances of survival under certain unfavourable conditions.
Here are some ways rabbits adapt to ensure an increase in their chances of survival:
- Rabbits grow a winter coat. To help them stay warm from the harsh winter weather. This is the first step a rabbit takes in preparation for the winter. In spring and autumn, way before winter rabbits shed a lot of their fur as this process starts well before the winter season.
The fur of a rabbit is divided into 3 namely:
- The Down – It is the fluffy, soft underlayer part keeping the rabbit insulated because it has lots of hairs. It is also the first layer near the skin of the rabbit.
- The Guard hair – This is the middle layer. Rabbits will grow more of this in the winter as it helps to keep rabbits weatherproof. The guard hair also helps rabbits retain more heat from the sun keeping them warm.
- The Guide hair – This refers to the top layer of the bunny characterized by its rough and long nature which helps to keep the other layers and skin protected providing a layer of padding against predators, injuries and the environment.
In winter, the Guide hair grows thicker and coarser for greater protection and warmth.
- Rabbits also build up and store up a fat layer and they do this when lots of food is available before winter, in the summer.
- They eat as much as they can to put on extra fat, actually a special kind of fatty layer called “Brown fat” which has the dual purpose of giving rabbits energy and heat during the winter.
- The chances of surviving for a rabbit in winter depend on the quantity of brown fat accumulated. Because the temperatures are low, in winter more brown fat will be used up. So rabbits must accumulate a lot of brown fat especially if the winter season will be a long one.
- Another adaptation of rabbits to the winter season is they switch their diet. Their main diet comprises vegetation and grasses.
But during extreme weather conditions like winter, rabbits change their diets and begin to feed on a lot more hard vegetation like twigs, woody plants and bark.
They reduce the amount of food they consume in winter to conserve energy that is usually lost during foraging.
- Rabbits in winter will reduce their activities to conserve energy. This ability is necessary to ensure the chances of survival of the rabbit are increased.
Once a suitable shelter is found, they reduce their daily activities to the barest minimum such is why they are not always seen in winter.
They sleep for about 8 hours in a day cumulatively by taking short 25-30 mins naps and spend the rest of the day foraging and sitting still, conserving energy as much as possible.
This means they’ll eat less in this season than in other seasons.
Other adaptations include: Eating their poop.
Can Bunnies Survive outside During Winter?
Bunnies, though they look small and fragile, have been known to be well adapted to cold temperatures.
But because they are born blind, deaf and hairless even with proper husbandry or shelter they can lose body temperature in minutes if exposed to cold temperatures and die.
While a healthy adult rabbit under the same conditions can tolerate temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit or even lower
Yes, you saw that right!
However, looking at the question concerning bunnies, they actually can survive in the winter BUT…
… it’s on a very very low probability as very young rabbits may not be able to tolerate the low temperatures of the winter along with its treacherous conditions.
Temperatures in winter can go as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit which may even be too cold for a healthy adult rabbit imagine a young developing rabbit.
So if you’re a rabbit owner, for the safety and well being of your bunny, do not allow them out during the winter even though their husbandry is set in favourable conditions it’s not advisable to allow bunnies, old rabbits and rabbits under medication out in winter.
So the chances of a bunny surviving out in the wild during winter are very slim even though it’s possible, the chances of survival are slim therefore it’s not advisable.
Can Rabbits Freeze to Death?
Of course, during winter the weather conditions can be too extreme even for an adult rabbit to handle and this can cause the rabbit to freeze to death.
The major reason for rabbits freezing to death can be traced to faulty preparation techniques and adaptations by the rabbit.
For example, if enough brown fat was not accumulated, the rabbit will quickly lose heat and freeze to death, same with if the rabbit is not properly sheltered.
So once the rabbit is well prepared and adapted for winter, not ill but hale and hearty, having a good shelter and food supply, having accumulated enough brown fat as well as other adaptations, your rabbit will be okay and will survive the winter.
Rabbits don’t hibernate, they lack the biological ability to do so.
So they need to employ some behavioural and habitual changes to enhance their chances of surviving the winter without sleeping through it. And as long as this is done at the right time and in the right measure, rabbits will survive the winter without the need for hibernation.