|Florida Nature: Florida Rabbits|
Jackrabbit- The Black-tailed Jackrabbit is a large, long-eared
rabbit of the open grasslands and desert scrub of the West. Its fur is a
dark buff color peppered with black, and its black-tipped ears are
almost the same length as its hind feet. Native of the western United
States, the black tailed Jackrabbit was accidentally introduced into
the Miami area in the 1930s and still persists around the Miami Airport,
Dade County, in the mowed grass habitat. The impact on native species is
unknown, but it is thought to have introduced Hoplopsyllus glacialis
affinis, a western North American flea associated with rabbits, into
populations of native cottontail and marsh rabbits in Florida.
Jackrabbits are strict vegetarians. During the spring and summer, they
feed on clover, alfalfa and other abundant greens. During the lean fall
and winter months, they subsist on woody and dried vegetation.
Jackrabbits always seem to be on their guard. They are very alert to
their surroundings and watchful of potential threats. They rely on their
speed to elude predators and, if they are lucky enough to escape, they
will flash the white underside of their tail to alert other jackrabbits
in the area.
Eastern Cottontail- The cottontail is grayish-brown in color, has a distinctive white "powder puff" tail, measures 14 to 17 inches in length and weighs two to four pounds. The cottontail rabbit prefers a habitat of heavy brush, strips of forest, weed and briar patches, abandoned fields and fringe areas of cultivated fields. Periods of peak activity for cottontails occur in early morning and at night. Rabbits are strictly vegetarians with their main food being green plant parts during the warmer months. When green vegetation is not available, rabbits will eat young woody shoots and bark. Eastern cottontails are solitary animals, and they tend to be intolerant of each other. Their home range is usually between 5 and 8 acres, increasing during the breeding season. Males generally have a larger home range than females. The eastern cottontail has keen senses of sight, smell and hearing. It is crepuscular and nocturnal, and is active all winter. During daylight hours, the eastern cottontail remains crouched in a hollow under a log or in a thicket. Here it naps and grooms itself. The cottontail sometimes checks the surroundings by standing on its hind legs with its forepaws tucked next to its chest. The cottontail is a quick runner and can reach speeds up to 18 miles per hour. Eastern cottontails are short-lived; most do not survive beyond their third year. Enemies include hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, weasels and man.
Marsh Rabbit- The Marsh Rabbit, Sylvilagus palustris, is found in freshwater and brackish marshes through out the state of Florida. The marsh rabbit moves about much more during daylight than the cottontail. It is reddish brown with a gray underside and tail, and is 16-18" long. The marsh rabbit is slightly smaller, darker brown, and has coarser hair than the cottontail. It has a small inconspicuous tail that is dingy white on the underside and will often walk rather than hopping as most rabbits do. The marsh rabbit is distinguished from its cottontail cousin in another important way – it is a strong swimmer and is usually found close to water. In Florida, this habitat includes everything from fresh and brackish marshes to wet prairies and flooded agricultural fields. The diet of the Florida marsh rabbit consists of emergent aquatic plants and wetland plants including grasses, sedge, maidencane, broad-leafed herbs, and weeds. Marsh rabbits can breed year round but most often from December to June. Litters contain 1-6 young. The nests are lined with grass and breast fur and located on the ground in thickets, stumps or logs. By four weeks of age, the young rabbits are weaned and are foraging for themselves. Marsh rabbits are most active at night and at dawn and dusk. So, too, are many of the marsh rabbit’s predators – owls, foxes, bobcats and alligators. Hurricanes and coastal flooding also take a significant toll on rabbit populations, particularly young rabbits and nestlings.
Swamp Rabbit- A swamp rabbit is a wood rabbit of marshy coastal areas from North Carolina to Florida. As the name suggest it lives mostly in swamp or swamp like habitats. The swamp rabbit needs water within its home range in order to survive. The swamp rabbit is not found outside of the United States of America. The swamp rabbit is 18 to 22 inches long with a 1 ½ inch long tail and weighs 3 ¼ to 5 ½ pounds. It is the largest of the cottontail rabbit genus. It has relatively small ears. Its fur is black to rust brown. It has cinnamon colored eye rings. Its underside as well as its throat and tail are white. The male is slightly bigger then the female. The swamp rabbit lives in groups. Its groups are small and usually led by a dominant male. It is a good swimmer and will swim without hesitation especially if it is threatened by a predator or human. It is awake both during the day and the night. It shelters in an above ground nest that is made out of plant stems and stalks. During the breeding season the female will make a breeding nest that she lines with her own fur.
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