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Overview

Brief Summary

Description

"The Swamp Rabbit is the largest North American cottontail, but has relatively short ears in proportion to its size. It forages for grasses, sedges, some tree seedlings, and other plants in marshy lowlands of the south-central United States. Most cottontails are not territorial, but Swamp Rabbits (and European rabbits) are: males mark their territory by ""chinning,"" using pheromones from a gland on the chin to scent-mark. A home range can encompass up to 20 acres. Litters, usually of three young, are born in nests, and females often adopt orphan young from another nest."

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  • Original description: Bachman, J., 1837.  Observations on the different species of hares (genus Lepus) inhabiting the United States and Canada, p. 319.  Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 7:282-361.
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Distribution

Range Description

Sylvilagus aquaticus occurs in the southeastern United States in eastern Texas and Oklahoma, southeastern Kansas, most of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, the western tip of the Florida panhandle, western Georgia, western Tennessee, far western Kentucky, the northwestern tip of South Carolina, far southern Illinois, and the south sections of Missouri (Chapman and Ceballos 1990).

S. a. littoralis occurs only in the southern gulf coastal section of the range. S. a. aquaticus occurs in the northern section of the range, more common in dense forest (Chapman and Feldhamer 1981, Chapman and Ceballos 1990).
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Geographic Range

Sylvilagus aquaticus can be found in most of the south-central United States and the Gulf coast. It is abundant in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Sylvilagus aquaticus can also be found in parts of South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, and Georgia.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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endemic to a single nation

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: Eastern Texas and eastern Oklahoma east to southern Indiana, western South Carolina, and Georgia.

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Sylvilagus aquaticus is the largest member of its genus, the cottontails. However, its ears are smaller relative to other cottontails. The head and back are usually a mix of dark brown, rusty brown, or black. The throat, ventral surface and tail are white. A clear cinnamon-colored ring is visible around the eye. Males are slightly larger than females. Males weigh from 1816 to 2554 grams, with an average of 2235 g. Females are from 1646 to 2668 grams, averaging 2161 g.

Altricial young are born with fur up to 5 mm long with a weight of approximately 61.4 g. At birth, their fur color is dark (either brown or black) on their back, sides and throat. The tail, chin and abdomen are white. The head is a mix of tan and black. Their eyes are closed when born and open in 4 to 7 days.

Range mass: 1646 to 2668 g.

Range length: 452 to 552 mm.

Average length: 501 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

  • Scheibe, J., R. Henson. 2003. THE DISTRIBUTION OF SWAMP RABBITS IN SOUTHEAST MISSOURI. Southeastern Naturalist, Volume 3, Issue 3: 327–334.
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Size

Size in North America

Sexual Dimorphism: None

Length:
Average: "501 mm "
Range: 452-552 mm

Weight:
Range: 1,646-2,668 g
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Length: 54 cm

Weight: 3000 grams

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Sylvilagus aquaticus occurs in swampy, lowland, or river bottom areas, always near water (Chapman and Feldhamer 1981). Forested wetlands and lowland hardwood forests are also preferred (Scheibe and Henson 2003). The amphibious nature of S. aquaticus offers it some protection from predators and hunters (Whitaker and Hamilton 1998).

S. aquaticus prefers a diet of sedges and also feeds on grasses and forbs (Chapman and Ceballos 1990).

Females have litter sizes from one to six, and produce two to five litters per year (Chapman and Ceballos 1990). Gestation is 35-40 days (Whitaker and Hamilton 1998).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Sylvilagus aquaticus prefers to live in swampy lowlands, marshy areas, floodplains, tributaries of larger rivers, and cypress swamps. It is typically found close to water. Swamp rabbits spend the day in self-made depressions in tall grass, leaves, or anything that provides cover until their nocturnal foraging bouts.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; scrub forest

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp

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Comments: Usually restricted to floodplains, bottomlands, riparian areas. Prefers mature forests. Associated with dense, brushy thickets in wooded floodplains along borders of lakes, river, and swamps. Commonly seeks water to escape danger. Nests are built in slight depressions in ground under brush piles or fallen branches, in hollow logs, or in holes along banks. Females regularly build dummy nests.

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Swamp rabbits are herbivores, foraging on a variety of plant materials, including grasses, sedges, shrubs, tree bark, tree seedlings, and twigs. Helm and Chabreck (2006) found that their preferred foods include savannah panicgrass (Phanopyrun gymnocarpon), false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), dewberry (Rubus sieboldii) and greenbrier (Smilax bona-nox). Swamp rabbits practice coprophagy. They have two kinds of fecal matter. The first is soft and green and still had nutrients in it--this is the kind that they eat because it gives them a chance to get more nutrients out of the food. The second kind of fecal matter are dark brown/black hard pellets--they do not eat these.

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; wood, bark, or stems

Other Foods: dung

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Granivore , Lignivore); coprophage

  • Choate, J., J. Knock Jones, C. Jones. 1994. Handbook of Mammals of the Aouth-Central States. baton Rouge and London: Lousiana State University Press.
  • Helm, S., R. Chabreck. 2006. Notes on Food Habits of Swamp Rabbits in the Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana. Mississippi Academy of Science: 129-133.
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Comments: Commonly feeds on a wide variety of plants, usually those associated with moist or wet habitats; grasses and sedges may be important.

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Swamp rabbits are important prey in their native ecosystems and their herbivory influences plant communities.

Swamp rabbits are affected by several parasites which include the trematodes Hasstilesia texensis and Hasstilesia tricolor, the cestodes Cittotaenia ctenoides, Cittotaenia variabilis, Multiceps serialis, and Raillietina stilesiellacestodes, the nematodes Graphidium strigosum, Nematodirus leporis, Obeliscoides cuniculi, Parasalurus ambiguous, Trichostrongylus calcaratus, and Trichuris leporis, fleas, ticks, and mites Haemaphysalis leporis-palustris.

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

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Predation

There are few known predators of Sylvilagus aquaticus, but known predators include domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), and humans (Homo sapiens). This species is the 2nd most hunted rabbit in the United States. They use a combination of cryptic coloration and "freezing" to avoid being detected and a rapid, irregular jumping pattern when fleeting to avoid capture.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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General Ecology

Annual or seasonal home range size in different areas: about 1-5 ha (see Kjolhaug and Woolf 1988). Population density in high quality habitat may reach 2/ha or more (Kjolhaug and Woolf 1988).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Swamp rabbits are normally not vocal except when they feel threatened. Males also leave scent marks to establish territories. Other Sylvilagus species also drum the ground with their rear feet to indicate aggression.

Communication Channels: tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Cyclicity

Comments: Usually active prior to sunset.

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

There is not much known about the wild or captive lifespans of Sylvilagus aquaticus because there have been very few studies examining this topic. Other Sylvilagus species live from 7 to 9 years maximum.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
10 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
1.8 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
1.8 years.

  • Chapman, B. 2007. The Land Manager's Guide to Mammals of the South. Durhan, NC: USDA Forest Service and Nature Conservancy.
  • 2000. "Swamp Rabbit Ecology" (On-line). Swamp Rabbit Ecology. Accessed November 09, 2007 at http://www.geocities.com/sylvilagus4/ecology.html.
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Reproduction

Swamp rabbits are synchronous breeders; all the members of a population breed at or around the same time. Prior to breeding a predictable sequence of behaviors occurs. First, females chase and/or threaten the males. Consequently, the males dash away. A jumping sequence follows. Finally, copulation occurs, and females begin chasing the males again.

Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)

Swamp rabbits usually begin breeding in mid- to late-February until August. Few exceptions are noted: in Texas, breeding occurs year round, in Louisiana, breeding can occur in every month except October.

Estrous behavior in unbred females follows a 12-day cycle, and estrus itself lasts about an hour in S. aquaticus. The gestation period lasts from 35 to 40 days (average of 36 to 37 days). They give birth to 1 to 6 offspring with an average of 3 offspring per litter.

Females make nests out of grass, dead twigs, and leaf litter above ground. These nests are typically 5.5 cm deep, 15 cm wide, and 18 cm high, and have side entrances. Sometimes, they use holes in large stumps or logs, Females also tend to build dummy nests before they build a real nest, which differs in that it is lined with fur before females give birth.

Young become sexually mature between 23 and 30 weeks old. Although juveniles are capable of breeding in their first year, most do not. Females have between 1 to 6 litters a year but 2 to 3 is most common.

Breeding interval: Females typically have 2 to 3 litters per year.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs from mid- to late-February in most places, but can occur year-round.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 6.

Average number of offspring: 3.

Range gestation period: 35 to 40 days.

Average gestation period: 36.5 days.

Range time to independence: 12 to 15 days.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 23 to 30 weeks.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 23 to 30 weeks.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous

Mothers stay with their young until they leave the nest at 12 to 15 days old. She nurses them usually around dusk and dawn. The mother continues to feed the young after they leave the nest. Once the young are weaned there is no further parental care. Males do not care for young.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female)

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Breeding season varies from late January-midsummer (peak February-March). Gestation lasts 35-40 days. Litter size is 1-6, average 2-3. First litters are smallest. Up to 5 litters may be produced per year; usually 2?

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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Smith, A.T. & Boyer, A.F.

Reviewer/s
Johnston, C.H. and Smith, A.T. (Lagomorph Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
Sylvilagus aquaticus is a species with a wide distribution, and though the area of suitable habitat is declining in most areas due to human development of land, there are populations reported to be persisting in southeast Missouri (Scheibe and Henson 2003), in an area where habitat has been greatly reduced. It occurs in many protected areas (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2006)
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The IUCN rank of this species is Lower Risk/Least Concern. Sylvilagus aquaticus has a global rank of "Secure" from NatureServe2007. In Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, and Louisiana populations are considered secure. Swamp rabbits are vulnerable in Kentucky and Arkansas and imperiled in Oklahoma and South Carolina.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Population

Population
Sylvilagus aquaticus is an important game species in much of its range and is known to be locally abundant in some areas and appears to be declining in others (Chapman and Ceballos 1990; Barbour et al. 2001; Scheibe and Henson 2003). Few studies have been conducted to determine the abundance or decline of S. aquaticus.

In Missouri, the overall area of suitable habitat is decreasing, but there are still several viable populations within the known range, and there is some indication that new populations have recently been naturally established, possibly due to dispersal facilitated by flooding (Scheibe and Henson 2003).

In Illinois, a 1995-1997 study showed a stable distribution of S. aquaticus in this range over the previous ten years (Barbour et al. 2001).

In Louisiana, there are large tracts of suitable habitat and it is an important game species (Chapman and Ceballos 1990).

In South Carolina, Rabbit Hunter Survey 2006-2007 shows that there is a decline in rabbits jumped/hour, 1.39 (2006) to 1.26 (2007) (South Carolina Rabbit Hunter Survey, 2006-2007).

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Sylvilagus aquaticus is a favourite game species, though its speed, ability to swim, and nature of its habitat offers some protection from hunters and predators (Whitaker and Hamilton 1998). Hunting is regulated by individual state wildlife agencies (Chapman and Ceballos 1990). While hunting is not a major threat to stable populations, S. aquaticus appears to have a sensitivity to harvest in the late season (winter) (Bond et al. 2004).

Habitat loss has been the greatest cause of decline of S. aquaticus. In Missouri in 1973, a decline of suitable habitat from 850,000 ha to 40,000 ha was recorded over the previous 103 years (Korte and Fredrickson 1977). The habitat was converted from forest to cropland.

Habitat fragmentation is an issue associated with human encroachment upon S. aquaticus habitat. Many S. aquaticus populations exist on small tracts of private property, impeding dispersal and creating difficulties for management (Scheibe and Henson 2003).

Flooding of wet forested areas has a negative impact on S. aquaticus populations, but floods in some areas induce dispersal (Scheibe and Henson 2003).
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Comments: Primary threat is habitat destruction/degradation.

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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Hunting of Sylvilagus aquaticus is managed individually by state wildlife agencies (Chapman and Ceballos 1990). Because S. aquaticus occurs in many instances on small tracts of private land, management becomes problematic (Scheibe and Henson 2003). Increasing the area of continuous tracts of suitable habitat may be key to S. aquaticus conservation (Scheibe and Henson 2003).

S. aquaticus is currently found in three managed areas in Missouri: Mingo National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), Duck Creek Conservation Area, and Donaldson Point Conservation Area (Scheibe and Henson 2003). It also occurs in White River NWR in Arkansas, Panther Swamp NWR, Mathews Brake NWR, Hillside NWR, and Morgan Brake NWR in Mississippi, Atchafalaya NWR in Louisiana, Deep Fork NWR in Oklahoma, and Chickasaw NWR in Tennessee (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2006).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Swamp rabbits are usually harmless, but may occasionally damage crops and other vegetation.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Swamp rabbits are hunted for fur, meat, and for sport in the southeastern United States.

Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material

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Economic Uses

Comments: Commonly hunted for sport and meat.

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Wikipedia

Swamp rabbit

The swamp rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus), or swamp hare,[3] is a large cottontail rabbit found in the swamps and wetlands of the Southern United States.

Appearance[edit]

S. aquaticus is similar in appearance to other cottontails, although it is among the largest members of the genus. It is generally brown, with the bottom of its stubby tail colored white. Adult male and female specimens of this species weigh between 3 and 6 pounds (1.4 and 2.7 kg). In lagomorphs, the female is commonly larger than the male.[citation needed]

Diet and nesting habits[edit]

The swamp rabbit eats reeds, plants, and grasses native to its marshy habitat. The swamp rabbit nests above ground in small dens made of dead plants and lined with its shed fur. When fleeing a predator, such as the American Alligator, the swamp rabbit can run over 45 mph (72 km/h), usually in an evasive zig-zag pattern.[citation needed]

S. aquaticus is a skilled swimmer, often crossing streams, ponds, and rivers. The semiaquatic cottontail will occasionally hide from natural enemies by sitting still in shallow water, exposing only its nose to the air to breathe.[citation needed]

This rabbit leaves characteristic pellet-like droppings atop moss-covered fallen logs throughout its territory.[citation needed]

Carter incident[edit]

In 1979, the swamp rabbit species enjoyed a brief stint of notoriety when one swamp rabbit had a close encounter with Jimmy Carter. In April of that year, as President Carter was fishing on a small pond on his farm, a visibly agitated swamp rabbit approached his boat and tried to board. Carter used a paddle to splash water at the rabbit to dissuade it from swimming towards the boat. The press dubbed this the "Killer Rabbit", in honor of the violent rabbit in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.[citation needed]

President Jimmy Carter's encounter with a swamp rabbit

Zooming in on the rabbit swimming away from the President

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hoffman, R. S.; Smith, A. T. (2005). "Order Lagomorpha". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 207–8. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ Smith, A.T. & Boyer, A.F. (2008). "Sylvilagus aquaticus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  3. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Swamp Hare". New International Encyclopedia. 1905. 
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Sylvilagus aquaticus and S. palustris share a derived karyotype (2n=38) (see Hoffmann, in Wilson and Reeder 1993).

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