Rabbits live in a variety of environments worldwide and instinctively create burrows for themselves and other group members to live in. In these havens, rabbits can escape predators, raise young, and safely rest in the heat of the day. However, considering rabbits can live in vastly different environments, do all rabbits live in holes?
All rabbits do not live in holes. Almost all rabbits dig holes known as burrows in order to create safe habitats for protection, rest, and resource storage. While most rabbits live in holes, Cottontail Rabbits create shallow, above-ground shelters known as forms to conceal them in the winter and fall months.
If the rabbit is part of a larger colony, they might live in a group of burrows known as a warren. Warrens are typically found in meadows, forests, grasslands, and sometimes deserts. Only one rabbit species, the Cottontail, doesn’t burrow.
A rabbit’s habitat is a unique and essential element of its survival, so we will discuss a rabbit’s habitat in-depth. We’ll also detail why burrows are a great choice for rabbits, how they’re built, and even some exceptions to this habitat rule.
Why Do Rabbits Dig Holes?
The fact that rabbits dig holes means they are considered burrowing animals, like moles, gophers, groundhogs, and other mammals.
Rabbits dig holes to protect themselves against predators, as a shelter from harsh weather conditions, and to feel safe and secure. Rabbits are extremely territorial animals and dig burrows to guard their food or other resources tenaciously against intruders.
The holes or burrows that rabbits dig are exceptional places for them to birth and raise their young away from threats and socialize with other colony members if present.
This is because rabbits strategically dig their holes near foraging areas, close enough to their burrow to quickly retreat home for safety when necessary. Rabbits rarely forage outside this designated area, as a nearby burrow often ensures their survival.
How Deep is a Rabbit’s Hole?
The average rabbit hole ranges between one and two feet deep, but in cases, burrows can reach up to 15 feet in depth. However, many factors can impact the overall depth of a rabbit’s burrow including the immediate environment, soil type, and the number of rabbits sheltering there.
Rabbit burrows or warrens can be found in various environments, including:
- Small woods
Because the resources differ greatly between these environments, so does the depth of the burrows dug by the rabbits there.
For instance, if a rabbit is from a forest where the soil can be packed tightly with ease, it can often create vast tunnels that are especially helpful for warrens, housing many members. Conversely, if a rabbit is digging a hole in siltier soil you might find in grasslands or near water sources, then the burrow or warren will most often be shallower and less extensive.
Of course, the more rabbits are in the colony, the more space is needed in the warren, and the deeper you’ll have to dig to safely house all of them. So, colony size is a significant factor as well.
Do Wild Rabbits Live Underground?
Most wild rabbits live underground in burrows or warrens. Burrows are very efficient underground shelters that ensure a rabbit’s safety and survival. While the depth and length of a rabbit burrow will vary, burrows will usually be 1-2 feet underground so rabbits can quickly hide and escape from predators.
Many people who think rabbits don’t live underground are often mistaking them for hares. Despite their similar appearance, hares are an entirely separate species from rabbits typically found in grassland habitats and woodland edges.
Rather than digging deep holes for burrows and warrens, hares will dig a habitat known as a form.
Forms are shallow depressions in the ground that are just deep enough for the hair to lay down almost level with the earth and provide some degree of protection from the elements. Hares do not, however, go underground.
When it comes to living habitats, all rabbit species dig burrows or warrens underground except for one.
Burrowing Exception of the Cottontail Rabbit
The Cottontail Rabbit is the only rabbit species that does not dig underground to create a burrow or warren. Instead, they follow the hare’s example and create the shallow, above-ground shelters known as forms.
These forms are often created underneath a brush or other foliage for cover and filled with clumps of fur, grass, or other soft materials the Cottontail can find. Sometimes, these rabbits will opt for an old woodchuck or gopher burrows instead of creating their form instead.
This practice is especially prevalent for colonies of Cottontails that need more space for a warren rather than a small shelter for just themselves.
One reason the Cottontail prefers forms over deep burrows is that they can be found in moderate climates where they don’t need the extra cover underground to escape extreme temperatures or weather conditions.
The form is used in the winter and fall months when there is less vegetation to hide the Cottontail and then often abandoned in the spring and summer when grasses are high enough to conceal them. Cottontails that use forms in these warmer months typically create them for a den when a new litter of kittens ( the technical word for baby bunnies) is born.
Do Pet Rabbits Dig Holes?
Considering wild rabbits instinctually dig holes to create their natural habitats, owners of domesticated rabbits might be wondering if their domestic rabbits dig holes too.
Like wild rabbits, domestic rabbits instinctually dig holes. Digging gives domestic rabbits exercise, provides mental stimulation, and helps rabbits feel safe and secure. While many owners let their rabbits dig holes in the yard, a digging box is a great alternative and allows your pet to dig in their hutch.
If your rabbit does not feel safe or secure in their space, they might try to dig so they can create a natural hide for them to enter when scared or stressed. Typically, this is just an instinctual urge, but sometimes a domestic rabbit excessively digging may indicate that something is missing from their enclosure.
Of course, some rabbits dig for pure enjoyment, and it’s perfectly alright to allow them to dig as they please.
Some rabbit owners will create digging units out of plant containers, soil, wood shavings, and sand, so their furry pet can create at least a tunnel or two to satiate their digging urges. Not only is this great mental and physical stimulation for your rabbit, but it also has grooming benefits for you as the owner since digging is a great way to keep your rabbit’s ever-growing nails short.
The scientific name for the European rabbit is Oryctolagus cuniculus, where “Orycto” translates to “digger,” “lagus” translates to “hare,” and “cuniculus” translates to “underground path.” This pretty much sums up the animal pretty well and easily answers whether they live in holes.
When a rabbit isn’t foraging for food or mating, it is often digging multiple underground tunnels for a burrow or warren where they can sleep, raise young, and hide in peace. So, next time you’re looking for a dozing rabbit in the wild, you’ll want to turn your gaze to the earth and look for an opening to their underground haven.