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Marsh Rabbit

MARSH RABBIT
 

© Larry Master
Photographer: Larry Master

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Sylvilagus palustris

OTHER NAMES: Cane cutter, blue tail, or swamp rabbit

DESCRIPTION:  A relatively small-sized rabbit measuring 16 inches long and weighing between two and five pounds.  They have dark chestnut colored fur, bluish-gray tail, and conspicuous claws on the hind feet.  They differ from cottontail rabbits which have white tails and the marsh rabbit’s ears are smaller (three inches in length).  Like other rabbits, they have two pairs of upper incisor teeth.  The first pair has a chiseled edge, and the second is peg-like and located directly behind the first.

DISTRIBUTION:  Found from the coastal plains of southeastern Virginia through Florida to south Alabama.  In Alabama, they inhabit the southern most counties, including the brackish marsh habitat of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. 

HABITAT:  Inhabits bottomlands, swamps, marshes, and lake borders. 

FEEDING HABITS:  Completely herbivorous (consume only vegetative matter).  Although they prefer roots, rhizomes, stems, and bulbs of a variety of plants, they will also consume marsh grass, cane, and forbs. 

LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY:  The marsh rabbit breeds throughout the year, producing three to six litters annually.  After a gestation period of 30 to 37 days, a litter of two to six  young is born, hairless and blind.  After birth the young require a large amount of parental care.  The young open their eyes when they are five days old and utilize their mother’s milk until 12 to15 days old.  The young begin reproducing before one year of age. 

Unlike the cottontail, the nest is constructed above ground, probably an adaptation to the wet environment.  The nest is a large, covered structure constructed of rushes, grasses, and leaves and lined with belly fur. 

A strong swimmer, the marsh rabbit has been recorded swimming 700 yards from shore.  When threatened, it may enter the water and swim with only its nose and eyes above the water.  While they can and do hop like the cottontail, they are likewise capable of stepping alternately with each foot, much in the manner of a cat or dog.  Their slow gait, when feeding, is different from the hopping of other rabbits.  The marsh rabbit is quite nocturnal, but varying tidal fluctuations may cause them to move during the day.

REFERENCES: 

Whitaker, J.,O., Jr.,  1988.  The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals.  Chanticleer Press Inc., New York. 745 pp.

Yarrow, Greg K. and Deborah T., 1999.  Managing Wildlife.  Sweetwater Press. Birmingham, AL., 588 pp.

Author: James Masek


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