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We all know how rabbits and hares escape ending up being a meal to a fox or a hawk, with long ears to hear danger coming, burrowing, long and powerful hind legs for speed and also living a social life as well as its famous method to outnumber their enemies by "breeding like rabbits".

Rabbits have been proven to be successful when it comes to adapting in different environments from deserts, temperate and tropical forests and even tundra.

Although certainly not the strongest, the fastest or smartest of all mammals, lagomorphs do carve out a strong ecological niche in their natural habitats, being prey to numerous predators as well as providing empty burrows for shelter for other animals.

But what if a few certain lagomorphs were to evolve extra defences to either help blend in with their surroundings (certain patterns like stripes or spots and maybe some could have adaptations like tufted ears to blend in patches of certain flowering plants) and go in a defensive method (rather than running away) to stand its back and fight back or discourage smaller predators like stoats and weasels like quills like that of a porcupine or hedgehog if possible or something?

The rabbits could occupy several ecological niches of well-armed herbivores such as porcupines due to convergent evolution.

Other anti predator adaptations could include feigning death or warning colouration.

And maybe some could share a symbiotic relationship with certain thorny plants or in Br'er rabbit's case "being born and raised in a briar patch" which could serve as a fortress against larger predators and maybe could benefit smaller animals.

Question- What I'm asking what kinds of defences are most likely to evolve? And what're the consequences of any particular adaptation? And what specific predators would specialise to hunt these lagomorphs?

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    $\begingroup$ The Cave of Caerbannog, the home of the Legendary Black Beast of Aaaaarrrrrrggghhh, .... it's just a rabbit! $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Mar 2 '17 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ What is your question? "What if they evolved more defenses" => they would die less and potentially overpopulate. What do you want us to help you with specifically? $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Mar 2 '17 at 23:30
  • $\begingroup$ @cobaltduck, but its got sharp pointy teeth! $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Mar 3 '17 at 1:52
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    $\begingroup$ Alexander, welcome to Worldbuilding! I've put your question on hold temporarily so you can clarify your question before people post a bunch of answers based on their guesses. Please edit to say what your question is -- what problem you'd like us to help with. Are you asking if this it's feasible for rabbits to develop these defenses ( a reality check)? Are you asking what kinds of defenses are most likely to evolve? Are you asking about the consequences of any particular adaptation? Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Mar 3 '17 at 2:54
  • $\begingroup$ Zxyrra, well I would imagine these rabbits still having natural enemies (maybe specialized on hunting them). $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Mar 3 '17 at 6:36
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Evolution: bet on strange.

One adaption would be a few sharp bones. Imagine a rabbit that happens to evolve a few razor sharp bones. Completely inside the rabbit, and protected from piercing the skin of the rabbits by involuntary muscles while alive, these would make eating rabbits difficult for large ground predators. Slightly different evolutions would protect rabbits from the high speed strikes of some predators.

Another idea might be the inclusion of a benign parasitic species. The Zargonmoth lays eggs in the rabbit which remain static until the rabbit is eaten by a predator. Then the eggs lodge in the cheeks, spawn larva, and devour the predator. Of course, the Zargonmoth is likely to get greedy and encourage unsafe behavior.

Finally, a fun defense would be like the Smilers in the book Gaia. Take a bite of rabbit, and a chunk of rabbit meat rips off. The rabbit, now skinny, needs to run away and eat a bunch more to generate new meat.

You already are picking giant rabbits; pick something silly.

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    $\begingroup$ Giant Rabbits? Maybe we can breed miniature giant rabbits? $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Mar 3 '17 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe, due to radiation or nanites, they develop the ability to turn metal into rubber. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Mar 3 '17 at 1:57
  • $\begingroup$ @ShadoCat Would only work in Space. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Mar 3 '17 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry what I'm looking specfically are earth-based wild rabbits $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Mar 4 '17 at 11:41
  • $\begingroup$ Not understanding. Earth rabbits currently use seasonal camouflage, stay very still, hide underground, and live in impenetrable brush. New adaptations like the above are possible within the size. "If they catch you they will kill you, Prince of One Thousand Enemies. But first, they must catch you." $\endgroup$ – Charles Merriam Mar 5 '17 at 9:00
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I myself have a strange kind of love for lagomorphs, so this is something I've considered quite a bit. I have several possible paths they could take to change their niche.

Keep in mind that this isn't based purely on a logical standpoint, there could be some handwavium involved, and not everything is the 'logical conclusion'. These are thoughts from my own ponderings for fantasy settings.

Path to defence--a la porcupine. The hairs on their backs start to get harder, pointier. Their diets would have to change accordingly--seeing as they'd need far more protein and whatnot to accommodate the changes. All you'd have to do is compare what evolutionary pressure caused the porcupine to develop as they did.

Path to offence--a la predator. Humans were, at one point, herbivores. Evolutionary benefits were afforded by digesting meats--a far more potent source of calories. Rabbits might take a similar route. It could start as growing more prominent claws, perhaps canines as well. With their numbers, rabbits could become the most dangerous pack predator out there.

Path to intelligence--a la homo sapiens. Though it is still debatable why humans developed sapience, there is little doubt random mutations and evolutionary pressure were key factors in it. Is it so hard to believe lagomorphs are capable of similar jumps? Perhaps it's via a mutation that grows opposable thumbs. Perhaps it's a mutation in the brain that allows for more complex thought-precesses. Intelligence--the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions--are how we survived as a species. So apply those rules to lagomorphs. They are already social creatures, so add planning, trap-making, perhaps rudimentary societies as they carve out their own history and stories.

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Long time ago my grandfather had a farm where he breed rabbits for meat and fur. I helped him to butcher and skin rabbits. I can say, that mature male rabbits can perform quite powerful punch by lower leg - strong enough to repel and amaze dog or even escape from hands of human (if strike lands in belly or groin of human). Probably, rabbits can evolve both claws and more muscles on lower legs to make their punch more strong and deadly.

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  1. Get Big If you are small (hare) then weasels, foxes, wolves or lions can eat you. If you are medium sized (deer) or large (zebra), then you are immune to foxes and weasels, but you can still be hunted by wolves or lions. If you are enormous (elephant) then you are only in danger from lions when you are a baby or juvenile. Full grown adults are safe from attack.

The specialist predators which attack 'mega-herbivores' such as elephants, are the sabretooth and scimitar toothed cats.

  1. Use group defence. Instead of immediately running you clump together in a defensive ring, like bison, African buffalo or musk oxen. Then if the predators get with striking range, you clobber them. Given that mad March Hares box to fend off unwanted suitors, perhaps your lagomorphs could box to maul their attackers. They would also, by rearing up, be removing their muzzle and throat from reach of the killing 'suffocation' bite of big cats. (Though obviously they would be exposing their belly).
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