Lagomorpha | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Lagomorpha, order of mammals containing 2 families: the rabbits and hares (Leporidae), and the small, lesser-known pikas (Ochotonidae).
Snowshoe Hare
A Snowshoe Hare feeding on grass.
Arctic Hare
Snowshoe or varying hare (L. americanus) are widespread throughout Canadian forested areas.

Lagomorpha, order of mammals containing 2 families: the rabbits and hares (Leporidae), with long ears and hind limbs, small tufted tail and hopping gait; and the small, lesser-known pikas (Ochotonidae), with smaller, rounded ears, hind legs and forelegs of approximately the same length, no apparent tail and running gait. The rostrum of the skull shows a single large opening in pikas or a peculiar lattice-work of bone in the leporids that is unique to the order.

Distribution and Habitat

Approximately 61 species are found in a wide variety of habitats on every continent except Antarctica. Seven species are native to Canada (5 leporids, 2 ochotonids); 2 leporid species have been introduced. They range from the US border to the arctic islands and are a familiar sight to almost every Canadian. All lagomorphs are terrestrial, herbivorous and active year-round. Pikas are most active during the day, rabbits and hares mainly in the evening and at night.


Both groups exhibit coprophagy (the reingestion of feces), which allows them to extract maximum nutritional value from fibrous plant food and is somewhat reminiscent of chewing the cud in ruminant mammals. Two types of fecal pellets are produced: soft, moist pellets which are eaten, and hard, fibrous ones which are discarded.


The lagomorphs were classified as rodents until formally separated, in the early 1900s, on the basis of numerous differences in dentition, skeleton, musculature and a geological history that extends back to the Palaeocene (65-23.7 million years ago). Rodents are no longer considered to be even close relatives. The origin of the lagomorphs is uncertain.

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