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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

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Maximum longevity: 7.6 years (captivity) Observations: One captive specimen lived 7.6 years (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Behavior

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There is little information available on the methods of communication used by Sylvilagus palustris. The closely related species Sylvilagus floridanus and Sylvilagus aquaticus have been studied more intensely. Females charge and leap when in the presence of other marsh rabbits. Males display alert and submissive postures, while also showing a tendency to scratch, mount, and paw rake.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Thompson, L. 2008. "Sylvilagus palustris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Sylvilagus_palustris.html
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Leah Thompson, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Conservation Status

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Lower Key marsh rabbits (Sylvilagus palustris hefneri) are endangered due to habitat fragmentation. Lower Key marsh rabbits are unevenly distributed throughout the Lower Florida Keys. Conservation efforts include reintroduction efforts. Other subspecies of marsh rabbits may also be effected by habitat fragmentation, although none are currently considered endangered.

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Thompson, L. 2008. "Sylvilagus palustris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Sylvilagus_palustris.html
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Benefits

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Marsh rabbits host ticks that carry Rocky Mountain Fever. Marsh rabbits are not known to destroy crops or have any sort of negative impact on human agricultural efforts.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease)

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Benefits

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Marsh rabbits live near marshy, isolated areas away from humans.

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Thompson, L. 2008. "Sylvilagus palustris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Sylvilagus_palustris.html
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Associations

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Marsh rabbits are herbivorous and are important primary consumers. Marsh rabbits are preyed on by raptors and large snakes.

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • ticks (Ixodidae)
  • fleas (Pulicidae)
  • rabbit fleas (Leptopsyllidae)
  • warble flies (Oestridae)
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Thompson, L. 2008. "Sylvilagus palustris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Sylvilagus_palustris.html
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Trophic Strategy

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Marsh rabbits are herbivorous and their diet varies according to seasonality. They eat a wide variety of vegetation including blackberries (Rubus ursinus), rhizomes, bulbs, marsh grasses, duck potato (Sagittatia fasciculata), cattails (Typha), centella (Centella respanda), marsh pennywort (Hydrocotyle), and water hyacinths (Eichhornia crassipes). In the winter, when green vegetation is scarce, marsh rabbits resort to eating bark.

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

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )

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Thompson, L. 2008. "Sylvilagus palustris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Sylvilagus_palustris.html
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Distribution

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Sylvilagus palustris (marsh rabbit) is found in parts of the southeastern United States. Its range includes southeast Virginia, southern Georgia, eastern Alabama, the Florida peninsula, and the islands along the coast of Florida. The subspecies Sylvilagus palustris hefneri is endangered and its range is limited to the lower Florida Keys. Currently the Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina has the largest population of marsh rabbits.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Thompson, L. 2008. "Sylvilagus palustris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Sylvilagus_palustris.html
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Habitat

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Marsh rabbits are found in lowland areas, not exceeding 152 meters in elevation. They are found near freshwater marshes and estuarine areas. Marsh rabbits are semi-aquatic and require vegetation near a permanent source of water.

Range elevation: 0 to 152 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial ; freshwater

Aquatic Biomes: brackish water

Wetlands: marsh

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Thompson, L. 2008. "Sylvilagus palustris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Sylvilagus_palustris.html
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Life Expectancy

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Marsh rabbits can live up to four years in the wild, however, most do not live to be a year old. Immature marsh rabbits are most susceptible to predation. There is no available information about life expectancy in captivity.

Typical lifespan
Status: wild:
4 (high) years.

Average lifespan
Status: captivity:
7.6 years.

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Thompson, L. 2008. "Sylvilagus palustris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Sylvilagus_palustris.html
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Morphology

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Marsh rabbits are medium-sized rabbits with short, rounded ears and small feet. The head and tail is smaller than those of easten cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus). Marsh rabbits are dark brown to reddish brown with a dark belly. The characteristic that distinguishes S. palustris from all other cottontail rabbits is the dark color of the underside of their tail. Other cottontail rabbits have white undersides to their tails. Marsh rabbits have sparse fur and remarkably long toenails on their hindfeet. There is no substantial sexual dimorphism.

Range mass: 1,200 to 2,200 g.

Range length: 425 to 440 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

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Thompson, L. 2008. "Sylvilagus palustris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Sylvilagus_palustris.html
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Associations

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Marsh rabbits are avid swimmers and often dive into water as a means of escape. They are nocturnal, which helps them to avoid detection by diurnal predators. During the day they often hide in dense vegetation for protection. Infant and juvenile marsh rabbits are especially vulnerable to eastern diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus adamanteus) and water moccasins (Agkistrodon piscivorus). The two predator species that have the most impact on populations of S. palustris are marsh hawks and great-horned owls (Bubo virginianus). Other raptors also prey on marsh rabbits, along with bobcats. Historically, red wolves preyed on marsh rabbits. In areas in which red wolves have been reintroduced, marsh rabbits are one of their dominant prey items.

Known Predators:

  • great-horned owls (Bubo virginianus)
  • bobcats (Lynx rufus)
  • barn owls (Tyto alba)
  • marsh hawks (Circus cyaneus)
  • barred owls (Strix varia)
  • red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis)
  • bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
  • water moccasins (Agkistrodon piscivorus)
  • eastern diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus adamanteus)
  • red wolves (Canis rufus)

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Thompson, L. 2008. "Sylvilagus palustris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Sylvilagus_palustris.html
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Reproduction

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Marsh rabbits are promiscuous, mating with multiple partners during the breeding season. Female marsh rabbits tend to be more territorial during this time. Male scrota descend only during the months of sexual activity.

Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)

Marsh rabbits, like all cottontails, have induced ovulation. Pseudo-pregnancy may occur if a female receives stimulus from an infertile male or another female. Pseudo-pregnancy lasts only about half of the time of a normal gestation period, which is typically 28 to 37 days long. Their breeding season is February through September. During a single season a female may have up to four litters. Breeding may occur year round in southern Florida. Marsh rabbits have small litters, with two to four young. Litter reabsorptions, when a pregnancy is aborted and the nutrients of the unborn young are reabsorbed by the female, are uncommon in Sylvilagus palustris due to their small litter sizes. Less time is spent nursing, only about twelve to fifteen days.

Breeding interval: Marsh rabbits breed three to four times a year.

Breeding season: In parts of their range marsh rabbits breed from February through September, they breed year-round in southern Florida.

Range number of offspring: 2 to 5.

Range gestation period: 28 to 37 days.

Range weaning age: 12 to 15 days.

Range time to independence: 12 to 15 days.

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

Average number of offspring: 2.3.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female:
219 days.

Marsh rabbits are born blind and completely helpless. The young use their legs to crawl at birth, their eyes open in 4 to 5 days. Female marsh rabbits nurse their young until they are independent, at 12 to 15 days old. Nests and young are vulnerable to flooding. Male marsh rabbits are not involved in the care of their young.

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

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Marsh rabbit

provided by wikipedia EN

The marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris) is a small cottontail rabbit found in marshes and swamps of coastal regions of the Eastern and Southern United States. It is a strong swimmer and found only near regions of water. It is similar in appearance to the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) but is characterized by smaller ears, legs, and tail.[3]

Terminology

 src=
Marsh rabbit
at Smyrna Dunes Park, Florida

The scientific name Sylvilagus palustris derives from a combination of the Latin words silva ("forest") and lagos ("hare"), plus palustris ("of the marsh").[4] The marsh rabbit has commonly been associated with the group of swamp rabbits; however, this name is not a synonym and should not be confused with the larger swamp rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus) of Alabama through Texas.[5] Marsh rabbits have also often been referred to as marsh hares.

Phylogeny

Subgenus Tapeti in the genus Sylvilagus, marsh rabbits (S. palustris), and swamp rabbits (S. aquaticus), share a chromosomal karyotype derived from a common ancestor and have a diploid number of 2n=38.[1] Molecular data analysis from sequencing the mitochondrial 12S ribosomal RNA gene confirms that S. palustris and S. aquaticus are sister taxa under their subgenus.[6] Since this gene evolves very slowly in most organisms, it is very useful in determining genetic origins of closely related species.

Size

Marsh rabbits are typically smaller than eastern cottontail rabbits. Adults from the Florida peninsula weigh approximately 2.2–2.6 pounds (1.00–1.18 kg) with a total length upwards of 17 inches (43 cm). Adults from the mainland regions typically grow larger, weighing up to 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg) and reaching more than 17.5 inches (44 cm) in length.[5][7] The hind feet of the average mainland marsh rabbit is also larger, at 3.6 inches (9.1 cm) compared with 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) for the typical specimen of the Florida peninsula.[5]

Subspecies

Three subspecies of Sylvilagus palustris have been identified:

 src=
Subspecies: Sylvilagus palustris hefneri
Lower Keys marsh rabbit
  • Carolina marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris palustris) – marsh rabbit of mainland regions
  • Florida marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris paludicola) – smaller rabbit confined to the peninsular regions of Florida.[5]
  • Lower Keys marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris hefneri) – classified as an endangered species.[7][8]

Appearance

Marsh rabbits display a blackish brown or dark reddish dorsal surface.[9] The belly is a dingy brownish gray in most but can also have a dull white appearance in mainland rabbits.[5][10] The leading edges of the ears display small black tufts with ochre on the inside.[7][10] rough hair on the dorsal side can be fringed with black hairs. The black portions of the upper parts often change to a dull grayish buff in spring and summer months, returning to a reddish or ochre color in fall, followed by darker black in the winter. Rabbits of peninsular Florida typically display darker and redder colors with a cinnamon-rufous nape, feet, and legs. Juveniles display much darker and duller colors than adults.[10]

One feature that distinguishes marsh rabbits from swamp rabbits and cottontails is that the underside of the tail is almost never white but more brownish gray.[10] Another curious feature observed in specimens from southern Florida is melanism. These individuals exhibit completely black phenotypic coloration that does not change seasonally.[7]

Marsh rabbits have a number of features that distinguish them from cottontails and swamp rabbits. The short ears and legs are much smaller than that of a swamp rabbit. The tail is also much reduced from the bushy tail seen in cottontails.[7]

Range

 src=
Marsh rabbit in cattail habitat
Sylvilagus palustris

The mainland marsh rabbit (S. p. palustris) ranges from the Dismal Swamp, Virginia, along the eastern coast to northern sections of Florida and through the Gulf Coast into Mobile Bay, Alabama.[5] It occupies coastal lowland areas, swamps, and rivers and is rarely found more than forty miles from the coast.[1] The Florida marsh rabbit (S. p. paludicola), occupies the peninsular region of Florida, from south of the Florida Panhandle to the upper Keys. There is a region north of Miami along the east coast where this subspecies is not found. The endangered Lower Keys marsh rabbit (S. p. hefneri), is only found in the southern Florida Keys.[8]

Habitat

The marsh rabbit commonly inhabits brackish and freshwater marshes, mainly of cattails and cypress.[11] In southern Florida, they commonly occupy sandy islands and mangrove swamps.[7] They are strictly limited to regions with ready access to water, unlike most rabbits.[8] Often, they will enter tidal marshes, but remain near high ground for protection. Normal hiding spots include dense thickets of magnolia, Blackgum (Nyssa Sylvatica), Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), briers, and cattails.[12]

Reproduction

Breeding in marsh rabbits occurs year-round. Typical brood sizes are 2 to 4 young with a gestation period of 30 to 37 days.[7] Adult females produce up to 6 litters per year with an average annual production of 15 to 20 young.[8] Nests are built from rushes, grasses, and leaves. The well-covered nest is lined with hair from the adult rabbits. They are often found in dense thickets or swampy places completely surrounded by water for protection.[13]

Diet

Marsh rabbits are strictly herbivorous. Typically, they feed on leaves and bulbs of marsh plants including cattails, brushes, and grasses.[11] They can also feed on other aquatic or marsh plants such as centella, greenbrier vine, marsh pennywort, water hyacinth, wild potato, and amaryllis.[12]

Marsh rabbits, like all rabbits, reingest their food, a practice known as coprophagy.[7] Rabbits excrete both hard and soft fecal pellets. These soft pellets, known as cecal pellets, are quickly eaten to be redigested and remove further nutrients. Since rabbits lack a crop displayed in ruminants such as cows and sheep, this process is an alternative method for extracting more nutrients from partially digested plant material.

Behavior

A marsh rabbit in Everglades. Video clip

Marsh rabbits are most active nocturnally; they spend most of the daylight hours resting in hidden areas.[8] Frequent hiding spots include dense thickets, hollow logs, and stands of cattails and grasses. They have also been known to take advantage of the abandoned burrows of other animals.[14] Marsh rabbits frequently make runway trails in dense vegetation along marsh edges. These trails can be identified easily as the rabbits mark active runways with fecal pellets.[7]

One very distinguishing habit of marsh rabbits is that they walk on all fours, placing each foot down alternately like a cat. Although they can hop like all rabbits, they are more agile in dense vegetation with this walking tendency.[7][8] This smaller gait has been measured at 3.5-6.5 in (8.9-16.5 cm) between steps.[14] The major characteristic of the footprint pattern not seen in other rabbits is widely spread toes.[13]

Marsh rabbits are more aquatic than swamp rabbits as they are not known to inhabit forests.[13] They take to water readily and are excellent swimmers. To aid in swimming, the hind legs have less fur and longer nails than typical cottontails.[7] When not concealed in dense thickets, the rabbits will stay submerged in muddy water with only their eyes and noses exposed and ears laid back flat.[13] When they have been spotted, they will readily take to water and swim quickly to a new hiding spot or floating vegetation.[14] Because marsh rabbits possess very short hind legs, they typically rely on doubling and turning when running to evade predators. This often leads to easy capture by dogs.[10] When flushed out of hiding spots, they may squeal as they escape.[7]

Birds of prey such as the great horned owl and northern harrier or marsh hawk are the major predators of the rabbits. Other predators include alligators, snakes, bobcats, foxes, and coyotes.[7][12]

Human interaction

In regions of the South, marsh rabbits are regularly hunted along with swamp rabbits by burning large patches of dried grass to flush them out.[7] In some states, the marsh rabbit is considered a game animal and is regulated by the Department of Natural Resources. For example, South Carolina establishes a hunting season from November 27 to March 2 with a 5 rabbit per day bag limit.[15] In Virginia, marsh rabbit hunting is managed by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.[16]

With their diet of mainly aquatic plants, marsh rabbits are considered minor agricultural pests to most economically viable crops. In southern Florida, however, they are considered major pests of sugar cane fields.[7][8]

Cultural references

In Georgia, the marsh rabbit is known as pontoon. In Alabama, swamp rabbits (or cane-cutters) are often mistaken for marsh rabbits.[5][13] In many regions of the Eastern US where it is served in restaurants, "marsh rabbit" is actually a euphemism for muskrat meat. True marsh rabbit meat is often prepared as a stew, or it may be marinated, covered in flour, and fried.[17]

References

  1. ^ a b c Hoffmann, R. S.; Smith, A. T.; Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. (2005). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 211. ISBN 0-8018-8221-4.
  2. ^ McCleery, R.; Lanier, H.C. (2019). "Sylvilagus palustris". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2019: e.T41303A45192995. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-1.RLTS.T41303A45192995.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  3. ^ Gingerich, Jerry Lee (1994). Florida’s Fabulous Mammals. Tampa, FL: World Publications. p. 56. ISBN 0-911977-13-9.
  4. ^ Archibald William Smith A Gardener's Handbook of Plant Names: Their Meanings and Origins, p. 258, at Google Books
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Elmer, A. H. (2005). Field Book of North American Mammals. Kessinger Publishing ( reprint of G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1928 ). pp. 504–506. OCLC 936637.
  6. ^ Halanych, K. M.; Robinson, T. J. (June 1997). "Phylogenetic Relationships of Cottontails (Sylvilagus, Lagomorpha): Congruence of 12S rDNA and Cytogenetic Data". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 7 (3): 294–302. doi:10.1006/mpev.1996.0403. PMID 9187089.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Whitaker, J. O.; Hamilton, W. J. (1998). Mammals of the Eastern United States (3rd ed.). Cornell University Press. pp. 178–187. ISBN 0-8014-3475-0.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g IUCN; SSC Lagomorph Specialist Group; Chapman, J. A.; Flux, J. E. C., eds. (1990). Rabbits, Hares and Pikas: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan (PDF). IUCN. p. 106. ISBN 2-8317-0019-1.
  9. ^ Feldhamer, G. A.; Thompson, B. C.; Chapman, J. A. (2003). Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Conservation (2nd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 101–125. ISBN 0-8018-7416-5.
  10. ^ a b c d e Nelson, E. W. (1909). "The Rabbits of North America" (pdf). North American Fauna. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Bureau of Biological Survey. 29: 265–270. doi:10.3996/nafa.29.0001.
  11. ^ a b Bowers, N.; Bowers, R.; Kaufman, K. (2007). Kaufman Field Guide to Mammals of North America (12th ed.). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 26. ISBN 0-618-95188-1.
  12. ^ a b c Fergus, C.; Hansen, A. (2003). Wildlife of Virginia and Maryland and Washington, D.C. Stackpole Books. p. 37. ISBN 0-8117-2821-8.
  13. ^ a b c d e Nelson, Edward W. (May 1918). "Smaller Mammals of North America". The National Geographic Magazine. Washington, D.C. 33 (5): 391–392. Retrieved 2018-06-02.
  14. ^ a b c Murie, O. J.; Elbroch, M. (2005). Peterson Field Guide to Animal Tracks (3rd ed.). Houghton Mifflin. pp. 40–42. ISBN 0-618-51742-1.
  15. ^ "Marsh Rabbit". ACE Basin Species Gallery. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. October 11, 2006. Archived from the original on February 14, 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-04.
  16. ^ "Species Information: Marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris palustris)". Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Archived from the original on 2012-02-22. Retrieved 2012-03-04.
  17. ^ Cassidy, F. G.; Hall, J. H. (1996). Dictionary of American Regional English: I-O. Harvard University Press. p. 525.
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Marsh rabbit: Brief Summary

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The marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris) is a small cottontail rabbit found in marshes and swamps of coastal regions of the Eastern and Southern United States. It is a strong swimmer and found only near regions of water. It is similar in appearance to the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) but is characterized by smaller ears, legs, and tail.

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