The other day my kid asked me if rabbits are nocturnal, and I was shocked that she didn’t know the answer. My family has had bunny rabbits for over 50 years and I’m happy to share what I know about rabbits’ sleep habits.
Rabbits are not nocturnal. Instead, rabbits are Crepuscular, which means that they are most active during the twilight hours of dusk and dawn.
Research has shown that rabbits can and do adjust their circadian rhythms based on outside influences to be active at different times of the day.
We’ll have links to that research in a bit, and we’ll also have a discussion about how that knowledge affects your pet bunny rabbit.
What is the difference between Nocturnal and Crepuscular?
Nocturnal means that your bunny prefers to be awake and active during the nighttime. While rabbits are often active at night, it’s usually because they perceive that time to be less dangerous than daylight hours because they have excellent night vision and a natural ability to hide in darkness.
What animals are primarily active during the day called?
Animals that are primarily active during the daylight hours are referred to as diurnal. These are animals that seek the safety of daylight. On our little farm, the best example of diurnal animals are chickens, ducks, and guineas.
Why Are Bunnies Crepuscular Instead Of Nocturnal?
The term ‘Crepuscular’ refers to animals with a crepuscular circadian rhythm that are primarily active during the twilight hours. Why would such hours be beneficial to rabbits?
Here on our farm, we see animals that are fearful of both nocturnal and diurnal predators choose to be most active during the twilight hours. Those animals include mice, deer, and rabbits. All of these seem animals to know that there are diurnal predators (primarily people) that are threats during the daylight hours and nocturnal predators (coyotes, owls, etc) that are threats during the night hours. So instead of risking those greater dangers, they choose to be active in the mid-hours of twilight; they are Crepuscular.
Rabbits are naturally crepuscular because the twilight and dusk give them the greatest protection from predators. As prey animals, rabbits are ill-equipped to escape the countless nocturnal predators.
Rabbits Are Flexible In Their Sleep Schedule
As National Library of Medicine research demonstrated, rabbits are very flexible in their sleep schedule. If they know when they are going to be fed, they’ll adjust their sleep schedule to that feeding schedule.
The research also showed that activity around a rabbit would encourage the rabbit to change its circadian rhythms to be awake when more interesting things were going on. That means that if your bunny knows that you are going to play with them over your lunch hour, or after you get off your 2nd shift job at 11 PM, they’ll adjust their sleep schedule to work with their best life. Being a rabbit is pretty cool.
How Does Your Rabbits Crepuscular Nature Effect Your Care?
As noted above, your pet bunny can and will adjust its circadian rhythm to match its environment. That means that if you feed and play with your bunny at a certain time each day, they’ll adjust their active times to coincide.
However, you might find that your rabbit is more playful and attentive during the twilight hours.
That means that playtime and any bunny training might be more fun and successful if you focus those activities to the early morning or late evening.
What about Wild Rabbits?
Most people consider wild rabbits to be generally nocturnal. However, they too are Crepuscular.
Keeping in mind that wild rabbits are small prey animals, and their list of preditors are varied and many.
On our farm, we’ll see lots of wild rabbits (we call them all “Peter”) leaving their underground burrows to come out and eat at dusk. When out in the middle of the night, which is sometimes required on a farm with any livestock, you’ll occasionally see rabbits, but not as many as at sunset. Instead, in the middle of the night, we see more preditors; coyotes, skunks, opossums, and fox.
Then in the early morning, we’ll see lots of wild rabbits (but not as many as at dusk).
P.S. If you found this helpful, please leave us a comment letting us know. Your feedback keeps us going! ~ The Rabbit Pros