Rabbit tails are so cute and fluffy! They look like little puff balls stuck to the back of a rabbit’s butt. Do they actually do anything to help a rabbit though? A cat’s tail is useful for helping them change directions quickly. A squirrel’s tail helps them with balance. So what does a rabbit’s tail do?
Why do rabbits have tails? Rabbit tails are helpful for a rabbit as they try to escape predators. The white underside can be confusing to watch as the rabbit zig-zags to escape. The tail also acts as a signal to other rabbits, and is a useful part of rabbit body language.
Rabbit tails are actually very interesting. They are a cute, seemingly useless part of a rabbits body that has hidden importance. And understanding the language of rabbit tails is a way for us to understand our pets just a little bit better.
What are rabbit tails for?
While rabbit tails aren’t completely essential to a rabbits survival, they do play an important part in keeping a rabbit and their family group safe. A rabbit’s tail also plays a role in helping the little bun evade predators in the wild.
Rabbits will use their tails to send signals to other rabbits in the area. They can send soundless commands with a flick of their tail to warn their family group of danger in the area.
Because of the fluffy white bottom of their tail contrasts against a wild rabbit’s dark coat, rabbits will often give away their own position by flicking their tail up. This, as well as rabbit thumping, are two very interesting examples of altruistic animal behaviors that have evolved to save the group rather than the individual animal.
Although small, a rabbit’s tail still gives them a little bit of help when they need to make quick turns or keep their balance. If you ever see a rabbit make a very quick turn to go in a new direction, you’ll notice their tail moves in the opposite direction to balance out the movement and help them turn faster.
This balancing act the rabbit’s tail plays is not nearly as effective as a cat’s tail is. The length of a cat’s tail helps make the movement more fluid. So when you see rabbits change direction, there is more of a zig-zag motion. They use their powerful hind legs to help change direction even faster.
Why is it white
It seems a little odd that wild rabbits have a great camouflaged body to hide them from predators, but then have a bright white flag on their butt. Well, according to the evolutionary biologist Dirk Semmann, rabbit’s white tails are meant to confuse predators.
As the rabbit runs away, the predator will naturally follow the bright white spot of the rabbits tail. Then the rabbit can quickly change direction, making their tail harder to see. The predator will have to take a few seconds of time to look for the camouflaged rabbit again. And those few seconds could be all the rabbit needs to escape.
Are all rabbit tails white?
Pretty much all wild rabbits will have a white underside to their tail. Most domestic breeds also have white tails, but on occasion, you’ll find a rabbit who doesn’t. Some domestic rabbits have been bred to have more fantastic colors, and this has affected the tail area as well.
The Anatomy of a rabbit tail
Believe it or not, a rabbit tail is not at all shaped like a little pom-pom. They only appear this way because typically we only see the tip of the fluffy tail poking out from underneath their layers of fur. It is common for rabbits to flip their tails up most of the time so you can see the white underside. This makes it stand out against the color of their fur.
The actual shape of a rabbit’s tail is much more similar to a deer’s tail. A rabbit’s tail usually has more fluffy fur on it and is rounded at the end, rather than pointed like the deer’s tail. If you ever see your rabbit sprawled out on the ground, you’ll be able to see the full length of your rabbit’s tail. It’s bigger than it seems, isn’t it?
Both rabbits and deer have a tail bone and muscles to move their tail around when they need to. The tail tends to be a very sensitive and delicate place. The only reason it’s not often injured because it’s pretty small and generally kept close to the rabbit’s body.
What is a rabbit tail called?
A rabbit tail is historically called a scut. It’s not a word that’s used very often anymore though. The word dates back to the fifteenth century and literally means “short, erect tail.” While the word “scut” is not often used anymore, I have heard the term “scuttlebutt” used to describe a wild rabbit or deer that is running away from you. I kind of like that term and might start using it more often.
Don’t touch a rabbit tail
It’s not dangerous to touch a rabbit tail, but most rabbits I’ve known don’t enjoy when someone tries to touch their tail. Rabbit tails are very sensitive. Most of the time, even a light touch will cause a rabbit to zoom away from you, or turn around and let you know how unhappy they are.
If you want to pet your rabbit, the best places are on their forehead and behind their ears. Most rabbits will also enjoy if you give them strokes all the way down their back. You could also try to give them a nice massage on their shoulders.
Rabbit body language with tails
To really understand rabbit body language you have to pay attention to the whole rabbit. From the top of their ears to the tip of their tail. So paying attention to a rabbit’s tail can help you understand what your rabbit is trying to say a little more clearly.
When a rabbit is feeling angry or aggressive, they will raise their tail up as they lunge forward or growl. A particularly angry rabbit, or one who is looking to mate, will even flick their tail back a forth a little.
When a rabbit is curious or just being cautious, they will often crawl forward on their front paws, while their back feet and tail are stretch out long behind them. The tail will be angled down toward the ground as a way of showing that they are not confident right now.
Rabbits will lift their tail up as they pee. This is a way to ensure that their tail doesn’t get wet and the fur doesn’t get matted from the pee. Looking out for this behavior might also help if you’re trying to litter train your rabbit. If you act fast enough, you might be able to pick your rabbit up and put them in the litter box as soon as you see their tail lift.
What if a rabbit’s tail get’s hurt? Will it grow back?
Sometimes a nervous rabbit mother will accidentally chew or groom her one of her babies tail off. Or it’s possible a rabbit will have an accident that ultimately leaves the poor little bun tail-less. Sadly, these rabbit tails will never grow back, but most domestic rabbits can live happy lives without their tails.
Rabbit tails don’t get harmed all that often, since they are often held close to their bodies, but the tails are still a delicate part of the rabbit’s body. So if the tail is harmed, there can be some lasting damage.
A rabbit’s tail has a bone and nerves, and it can be really painful for a rabbit to lose their tail. If your rabbit’s tail gets hurt in any way, you should treat it the same as you would for any other bodily wound. You will need to go to a rabbit savvy vet and get help for your bunny.
Why do rabbit noses wiggle?
Bunnies twitch their noses to help them smell better. Rabbit’s don’t need to twitch their nose to breathe, and they will often stop wiggling while the rabbit sleeps. But while a rabbit’s nose is wiggling, it stimulates the scent organs to help the rabbit smell even the faintest scents.
How fast can rabbits run?
On average, a rabbit is capable of running anywhere from 25-45mph. Domestic rabbit usually don’t run that fast though, unless they have been specifically trained for agility. Wild cottontail rabbits regularly reach speeds of about 30mph, but can run even faster.
Why are rabbit ears so big?
Rabbits ears let them hear sounds over long distances and detect predators. Less obviously, rabbit ears also help regulate their body heat. There is a network of blood vessels in a rabbit’s ears that contract and expand to help the rabbit cool down or retain heat.
- Foley, James A. “Rabbits’ Distinct White Tails may Provide Evolutionary Advantage.” Nature World News, Aug. 8, 2013, www.natureworldnews.com/articles/3405/20130808/rabbits-distinct-white-tails-provide-evolutionary-advantage.htm.
- “Scut.” The Word Detective, Mar. 31, 2014, www.word-detective.com/2014/03/scut.
- Woolbright, Beth. “The Scuttlebutt on Rabbits and Deer.” House Rabbit Society, rabbit.org/journal/3-11/scuts.html.