Rabbits are NOT Nocturnal, so what are they?


are rabbits nocturnal?

If you have a pet rabbit, you may have noticed that they tend to sleep a lot during the daytime. Or maybe you noticed that you only see wild rabbits outside when you’re out for a run in the morning. Many animals are more active at nighttime, so you think maybe rabbits are nocturnal.

Rabbits are crepuscular, not nocturnal. This is a term that means they are most active around dawn and dusk. Rabbits will still periodically get up to stretch and eat during the day and night, but you’ll notice them sleeping through most of the afternoon. This protects rabbits against both nocturnal predators and daytime hunters.

Like humans, a rabbit’s internal clock has a great impact on their behavior. It lets them know when they should eat, sleep, exercise, and play. If we understand our rabbits and how the time of day affects their behavior, then it can help us take better care of our rabbits. We’ll know when to feed them, and the best times to let them out for exercise. Most of all, understanding these activity levels in rabbits can help us know if our rabbits are sick or just sleepy.

What does crepuscular mean?

Crepuscular animals are species that are most active around sunrise and sunset. They are not nocturnal, since they sleep through the night. But they also sleep during the day, so they’re not diurnal either. Deer are another example of a crepuscular species, as well as many rodent species.

However, this doesn’t mean that crepuscular animals will only be active during dawn and dusk. In fact, it’s rare that these animals will completely sleep through the day and night. Most of these crepuscular animals will have a couple of periods during daylight or darkness when they are somewhat active. It’s not so unusual to see these species out getting food during the day, but it’s not nearly as common as seeing them in the morning or evening.

Crepuscular animals are also sometimes more active on nights when there is a full moon because there is not complete darkness. And they might also be more active on cloudy days when the daylight is not too bright.

Why are rabbits crepuscular?

While it doesn’t do much to help our pet rabbits nowadays, wild rabbits developed this internal clock as an anti-predator tactic.

Being crepuscular gives rabbits a small advantage over some of their main predators. Nocturnal animals, such as owls, have trouble seeing before the hours of darkness. And diurnal animals, such as hawks, hunt during the daylight hours and can’t see as well at night. Rabbits are able to limit their confrontations with both types of predators by being most active in the hours between darkness and light.

In warmer areas crepuscular activity in rabbits may also have developed because it keeps them out of the hot sun. It is a way that rabbits can forage for food while there is light out, and still gives them the chance to sleep in their cool, underground burrows during the hottest parts of the day.

The reality for domestic rabbits

Because domestic rabbits don’t have the threat of predators, and often live in climate controlled houses, they seem to be losing some of their instincts as crepuscular animals, and adapting to some human schedules. 

In my experience, pet rabbits are not strictly active during the dawn and dusk. Sure, this is when they tend to be the most active, but I’ve known plenty of owners who have buns that like to zoom around and wake them up in the middle or the night. 

Or my current rabbit, Elusive, always gets very excited in the middle of the day around lunchtime. She has adjusted to my schedule and knows she might get a treat if she follows me into the kitchen. While she’s up, she spends the next hour or so enthusiastically digging into her cardboard boxes.

rabbit biting on cage
Rabbits will let you know it’s time to come out and exercise. If you don’t stick to their schedule, they make a lot of noise in their enclosure.

Daily routine for pet rabbits

It is still important to work with your rabbit’s routine. They like it best when they know exactly when to expect their food, or when they’ll be let out for some exercise. You’ll find if you don’t give them food when they expect, you will have a very impatient bunny on your hands. They may chew on things they’re not supposed to, or make a lot of noise rattling the cage bars until you do what they expect.

It’s also a good idea to feed them around the same time every day to help keep their gut healthy. Rabbits have very sensitive digestive systems, so it’s best to keep things as regular as possible. I choose to replenish my rabbit’s hay and give her the daily pellets early in the morning. Then give her fresh leafy greens in the evening. 

It’s also important to make sure your rabbit has a daily exercise schedule. Because rabbits are crepuscular, the best times of day for this are the hours around dawn and dusk. If this is impossible, your rabbit will be able to adjust to the schedule you give them. You just have to be consistent.

If your rabbit deviates from their daily schedule, this might be an early sign that they are getting sick. Because I know that my rabbit follows me into the kitchen every day, I knew immediately that she wasn’t feeling well on the day she just sat in her pen and didn’t follow me. If you know when your rabbit is usually active, you can spot when they are behaving abnormally and catch any signs of sickness before it becomes serious.

How many hours of sleep should a rabbit get?

Rabbits will function just fine with only a few hours of sleep, but it is most common that they will get around six to eight hours of sleep throughout the day and night. A pet rabbit who is very comfortable and relaxed might even get a full ten hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.

Instead of sleeping through a whole eight hour period of time, rabbits take lots of naps through the day. You’ll see them take a half hour nap here, or an hour nap there. Or sometimes they’ll loaf around and will just be half asleep for a little while. This is absolutely normal rabbit behavior, and definitely not something you should be worried about.

Is my rabbit sleeping too much?

Most likely your rabbit will not be sleeping too much. It is very normal for them to sleep a lot during the day. The only time I would worry is if they start to break from their normal routine.

If your rabbit is normally awake and excited for play time in the evening, but all of a sudden they just want to sleep, then it may be time to bring them in for a check up. It could be that your rabbit is just having an off day, but lethargy in rabbits is one of the first signs that something is wrong. You may be able to catch the sickness early and help your rabbit recover fast.

rabbit sleeping positions
Rabbits mainly sleep on one of these three positions. They often sleep with their eyes open too.

Rabbit sleeping positions

Sometimes it can be a little difficult to tell when your rabbit is sleeping. They don’t always sleep with their eyes closed, and often they are only half asleep so they will quickly get up and active if they sense something scary or interesting.

Rabbits will most often sleep in a loaf position. This is when they fold their legs underneath them and curl up into a ball. More often than not, your rabbits eyes will be open when they sleep in this position.

Your rabbit might also sprawl or flop out on the floor. In these positions, rabbits are more likely to close their eyes and be less aware of the world surrounding them. It might be a little scary to see a flopped rabbit the first time though. Sometimes these sleep positions can look like the rabbit has keeled over and died, but in reality they are quite comfortable. Sleeping like this is actually a sign that your rabbit feels very safe in their environment.

Related Questions

Are rabbits rodents?

Rabbits are not rodents. Instead are in the Lagamorpha order. Until early in the 1900’s rabbits were considered rodents, but they were reclassified when scientists studied the differing skeletal and reproductive features.

Can rabbits see in the dark?

Rabbits can see in the dark, but their vision is best suited for dim light situations. Their vision becomes a little grainy or blurry in darker conditions. They are also farsighted and can have trouble seeing the details of something in front of them no matter what the light situation is.

How do I know if my rabbit is sick?

The first signs to look out for to know if your rabbit is sick, are whether or not your rabbit is eating and pooping. Rabbit’s have sensitive digestive systems that are easily disrupted when a rabbit doesn’t feel well.

Sources:

  1. “The rabbit: a diurnal or a nocturnal animal?” Pubmed.gov, Laboratory Animals Research Unit, University of Ulm, F.R.G., 1991, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1814463.
  2. “True or False? Rabbits are nocturnal.” House Rabbit Society, rabbit.org/fun/answer6.html.

Amy Pratt

Amy Pratt is a lifelong rabbit owner who has been specializing with rabbits at the Humane Rescue Alliance. She helps to socialize the rabbits and educate volunteers on the care and behavior of these small mammals.

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