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Marsh Rabbit

Sylvilagus palustris

The marsh rabbit has reddish or dark brown fur. (Andrea Westmoreland/Flickr)
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The marsh rabbit has reddish or dark brown fur. (Andrea Westmoreland/Flickr)

The marsh rabbit is a brownish, medium-sized rabbit. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, it is only found in the marshes and swamps of southeastern Virginia.

Appearance:

  • Reddish brown or dark brown fur
  • Dark belly
  • Small, grayish tail that is dark underneath
  • Short, rounded ears
  • Small feet
  • Long toenails on the hind feet
  • Grows 14-16 inches

Habitat:

  • Lives in quiet, isolated swamps and marshes
  • Prefers freshwater marshes, but can also live in salt and brackish marshes
  • Semi-aquatic, meaning it spends time both on the land and in the water
  • Usually lives alone
  • Nocturnal

Range:

  • In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, it is only found in southeastern Virginia, south of the James River

Feeding:

  • Feeds on aquatic plants such as cattails, duck potato, water hyacinth and marsh grasses
  • Can also eat woody plants such as blackberry, greenbrier and tree bark

Predators:

  • Great-horned owls and marsh hawks are the two main predators, but other raptors such as bald eagles may prey upon marsh rabbits
  • Young are often eaten by rattlesnakes and water moccasins

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Breeds several times between February-September
  • Females may produce four litters of 2-4 young each year
  • Builds a nest of fur and grass within sedges at the edge of the water
  • Gestation period last 30-37 days
  • Young are born blind and helpless. Their eyes open in about 4-5 days.
  • The female cares for her young until they are weaned, which takes about 12-15 days
  • Often reaches sexual maturity before age one
  • Can live up to four years, but most do not live past one year

Other Facts:

  • The only mammal in the Bay region that is restricted to marshes and swamps
  • An excellent swimmer that will often dive underwater to escape from predators
  • Can be confused with the eastern cottontail. You can distinguish a marsh rabbit by its smaller head, ears and feet and its small gray tail that is dark underneath. Also, marsh rabbits are only found in marshes and swamps in southeastern Virginia, while eastern cottontails are extremely common throughout the Bay watershed.

Sources and Additional Information:

Places:




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