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Characteristically Swamp Rabbit (13Jan2022)
Characteristically Swamp Rabbit (13Jan2022)

Characteristically Swamp Rabbit (13Jan2022)

At “Swamp Rabbit,” the Office for Environmental Programs Outreach Services at the University of Kentucky wrote:

Description – Brownish gray; short coarse fur; white underside, including tail; short, thin tail; large, rust colored feet; large head; black spot between ears; extra skin between toes help them swim and walk through mud

Size – 20.5 – 21.3 in. (52 – 54 cm) total length; 2.6 – 2.8 in. (6.7 – 7.1 cm) tail length; 4.1 – 4.3 in. (10.5 – 11 cm) hind foot length; 2.9 – 6.0 lbs. (1.3 – 2.7 kg)

Ecological Role – The swamp rabbit is a plant eater (herbivore). Because it eats plants, it converts plant matter into animal matter (heterotroph) and becomes an important part of the food chain. The swamp rabbit is a prey species for snakes, hawks, owls, foxes, and other mammals.

Fun Facts – The swamp rabbit is often called a swamper and is the largest member of the cottontail family. They are usually solitary animals and are territorial; that is, a rabbit will defend a certain area from use by other swamp rabbits. The male marks the territory by a process called “chinning” in which a scent (pheromones) from the chin area are rubbed onto logs and other surfaces. The swamp rabbit produces both green and brown waste pellets. Green pellets are re-ingested (eaten) to maximize the nutrients received from food. Microorganisms in the rabbit’s gut attach to these pellets and increase the amount of nutrients extracted during the second ingestion. A collection of these pellets on top a log or stump is a sign of their presence. Swamp rabbits are good swimmers and can survive floods by clinging to trees. They have been known to hide underwater with just their nose above the surface. They flee in a zigzag pattern and can run up to 48 miles per hour.

Food – Cane, greenbriar, trumpetvine, spicebush, wahoo (or burning bush), red maple sprouts, elm sprouts, aquatic plants, grasses, sedges, and leaves

Cover – Nests are made of grass in brush piles, hollow logs, or holes in the bank; lined with fur and grass; home range 11 – 27 acres; will hide under water, thick brush, or burrows of other animals during the day


At “An Artificial Latrine Log for Swamp Rabbit Studies” (also here) Eric Schauber, Paul Scharine, Clayton Nielson, and Lyann Rubert (of Cooperative Wildlife Research Laboratory and Department of Zoology, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, I. 62901, USA) wrote:

Fortunately, swamp rabbits habitually defecate on elevated substrates (especially logs), producing conspicuous latrines. Zollner et al. (1996) found that swamp rabbits deposited 91% of fecal pellets on logs and appeared to select broad, moss-covered logs in advanced decay. Latrines likely serve a social signaling function associated with reproduction, although swamp rabbits may also defecate while using logs as elevated lookouts (Whitaker, Jr. and Abrell 1986, Zollner et al. 1996).

Eric M. Schauber, Paul D. Scharine, Clayton K. Nielsen, and Lyann Rubert “An Artificial Latrine Log for Swamp Rabbit Studies,” Journal of Wildlife Management 72(2), 561-563, (1 February 2008). https://doi.org/10.2193/2007-234

In “Characteristics and Adaptive Significance of Latrines of Swamp Rabbits (Sylvilagus aquaticus)” (also here and here), Patrick Zollner, Winston Smith, and Leonare Brennan wrote:

Three different types of forests (mature, mixed upland, and cut-over) in central Arkansas were surveyed in June and October 1991 and February and May 1992 for latrines of swamp rabbits (Sylvilagus aquaticus). Swamp rabbits deposited >91 % of their fecal pellets on logs. A greater density of pellets were found in February 1992 compared to other months. Length, height, diameter, decay class, and percent cover of moss on logs used as latrines by swamp rabbits were recorded. Logistic regression was used to predict the likelihood that a log would be used as a latrine. Increasing decay class, percentage cover of moss, and diameter of logs were correlated with latrines of swamp rabbits. Height of logs did not distinguish between used and unused logs, but length and season were significant predictors of use of logs as latrines in forests of mature bottomland hardwood and cut-over bottomland. Spatial clumping of latrines and peak use during breeding were consistent with the hypothesis that latrines on logs serve as territorial markers. An alternative hypothesis that swamp rabbits elevated themselves on logs to increase their field of view and coincidentally deposited pellets on logs was tested experimentally with three obstruction treatments; visual + physical, only physical, and a control. Treatments were placed on I-m sections of 54 logs that had been used as latrines in at least 2′ of the 4 monthly surveys. Surveys conducted for 4 months after the installation of obstructions showed a significant\ interaction between use of a log as a latrine, treatment type, and month of survey.

Journal of Mammalogy, Volume 77, Issue 4, 15 November 1996, Pages 1049–1058, https://doi.org/10.2307/1382785

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