Winter is a time of hardship and endurance for many wild animals.
Wild rabbits do not hibernate during the winter and hence need to keep themselves well-fed and hydrated during this time.
However, this begs the question, how do wild rabbits get water in the winter?
This article will explain how wild rabbits get water in the winter months.
Here, you will find information about wild rabbits’ wintertime habits, diet, and needs.
So let’s get into it!
How do Wild Rabbits Get Water in the Winter?
If you were under the impression that wild rabbits don’t need water in the winter because this is when they hibernate, you couldn’t be more wrong.
As a matter of fact, wild rabbits do not hibernate during the winter.
Instead, they stay within their underground burrows or shelters and conserve as much energy as they.
Moreover, wild rabbits will only leave their shelter in the winter when they need food and water.
However, most of their regular food and water sources have been frozen over during the winter months. Therefore, wild rabbits have to rely on other wintertime freshwater sources to get drinking water.
If it has snowed in the area recently, wild rabbits should not have a problem gaining access to freshwater to drink.
This is because recently fallen snow is in itself freshwater and can be thawed and drank by the wild rabbits for hydration.
However, if it has not snowed in the vicinity recently, wild rabbits have to rely on other freshwater sources in order to remain hydrated.
This includes water that has collected in tiny puddles, temporary ponds, water that has collected on grass, leaves, or other types of plants, or a small freshwater stream.
Since wild rabbits do not have a consistent source of fresh drinking water during the winter, they may need to venture a little far from their burrow in order to find it, especially if there is no snow in the area.
However, it is important to note that rabbits do not require a lot of water to remain hydrated.
This is especially true during the winter because a rabbit slows down its metabolism during this time and conserves as much energy as it possibly can from day to day.
Lastly, while rabbits may often look for snow, puddles, ponds, small streams, and dew for water in the winter, rabbits generally receive most of their moisture from the food that they consume.
Since they have a plant-based diet, rabbits are able to consume a regular amount of water through the food that they eat.
What do Rabbits Eat in the Winter?
Wild rabbits are much harder and tougher than domesticated rabbits that have the luxury of being provided food all year round.
During winter, a wild rabbit’s regular food sources are lacking. These food sources include grasses, hay, berries, or clover.
When winter comes around, and these normal sources of food disappear for a few months, wild rabbits will move from a plant and berry-based diet to a primarily wood-based diet.
Therefore, wild rabbits will resort to two main sources of food during the harsh winter months.
1. Wood-based Food Sources
During winter, wild rabbits depend on the wood-based sources of food that they find in their immediate environment.
This includes twigs and bark, more specifically, the bark of rose bushes and sumac bushes.
Wild rabbits will also resort to munching on bush buds and various woody plants such as oak trees, birch, and willow.
2. Cecotropes (Partially Digested Feces)
Like many small herbivores, rabbits reingest much of their partially digested feces to get the most nutritional value from the food that they eat during the harsh winter months.
In fact, during the winter, rabbits can reingest up to 80% of their partially digested feces.
The name used to describe this rather strange yet innovative dietary behavior is coprophagy.
However, there is a more pressing reason why rabbits have to indulge in this dietary behavior during the winter.
Since wild rabbits are already limited in their dietary choices during the winter, they need to get as much nutritional value from their food as they possibly can.
This problem is compounded by the fact that rabbits do not have very efficient digestive systems.
Therefore, they are able to get more nutritional value from the wood-based food that they eat during winter by reingesting their feces and allowing the partially digested feces to make the trip through their digestive system for a second time around.
Experts have shown that wild rabbits receive very limited nutrient absorption through their lower gastrointestinal tract.
This is due to a factor known as bacterial synthesis.
Therefore, reingesting their partially digested feces helps the rabbits attain more nutrients from the food that they have already eaten once.
Important minerals, such as Vitamin B (which is produced by the bacteria in the feces), can be absorbed into the rabbit’s bloodstream in this way.
How do Rabbits Stay Warm during the Winter?
Various physical adaptations such as growing a thicker coat help wild rabbits stay warm during the winter.
Moreover, rabbits have evolved the ability to build an extra layer of fat during the winter that helps them retain more of their body heat and stay warm.
Other ways a rabbit stays warm during the winter are through behavioral adaptations.
A wild rabbit fills its nest with grasses, hay, and straw, which help to trap the heat exuded from its body and keep its burrow warm.
According to experts, all these adaptations help wild rabbits maintain a healthy body temperature of 102 to 103° F.
Moreover, during the winter, rabbits will spend most of the day sitting in their burrows absolutely still and not moving at all.
This helps them to conserve energy and keeps their metabolism low, thereby helping them to maintain a warm body temperature.
Research has shown that wild rabbits stay warm during the winter by burning the fat deposits in their brown adipose tissues.
This is a process known as thermogenesis because when brown adipose tissue burns, it produces heat.
Results of various experiments show that during the winter, rabbits will preferentially burn fat from their brown adipose tissue in order to produce heat.
Where do Wild Rabbits take shelter in the winter?
Many rabbits dig underground burrows for themselves in order to keep sheltered from the cold and stay warm in the winter.
Meanwhile, some wild rabbits do not dig their own burrows and will find an empty burrow dug by another animal for themselves.
If a wild rabbit is unable to find an empty burrow in which to take shelter, they may look for shelter from the cold under thick, woody vegetation where they will huddle up and conserve their energy.
In more suburban areas, wild rabbits may even stay warm by huddling underneath porches or cars.
At the end of the day, when the harsh cold of winter hits, any place that provides adequate protection from the cold will serve as a shelter for a wild rabbit looking to stay warm.
A rabbit’s wintertime shelter must not only keep it warm but must also protect it from predators.
For this reason, a wild rabbit may take shelter in evergreen trees, thick bushes, brush piles, and even hollowed-out tree stumps.
How do Rabbits Survive during the Winter?
There are multiple ways in which rabbits survive during the winter.
Rabbits are generally very tough creatures, more than they are given credit for, and so they have adapted a number of tricks up their sleeves that help them survive the harsh cold of the winter months.
For starters, rabbits get their water from snow, temporary puddles, ponds, streams, and dew in the winter.
Neither do wild rabbits hibernate nor do they travel very far from their burrows or shelters for food and water.
Therefore, they have to adapt to the changes that the winter brings.
For food, rabbits switch to a courser, wood-based diet during the winter because these are the sources of nutrition that are most readily available for them in their immediate environment.
Moreover, they reingest their partially digested feces in order to gain greater nutritional value from their food. This also serves as a great source of B Vitamins.
To keep warm in the winter, wild rabbits will grow a thicker coat and build a thicker layer of brown adipose tissue in their body.
The fat deposits in these tissues can be preferentially burned by the rabbit to produce body heat.
Lastly, wild rabbits survive the winter by spending most of the time in their burrows or shelters and conserving energy and heat by reducing their activity and regulating their body temperature through their ears
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