Marsh rabbits have reddish brown or dark brown fur and dark bellies. Their small, grayish tails are dark underneath. They have short, rounded ears. Their feet are small, with long toenails on the hind feet. Marsh rabbits grow 14 to 16 inches in length.
Marsh rabbits feed on aquatic plants such as cattails, duck potato, water hyacinth and marsh grasses. They can also eat woody plants such as blackberry, greenbrier and tree bark.
Great-horned owls and marsh hawks are the two main predators of marsh rabbits, but other raptors such as bald eagles may prey upon them as well. Young are often eaten by rattlesnakes and water moccasins.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Breeding occurs several times between February and September. Females may produce four litters of 2 to 4 young each year. Nests are built of fur and grass within sedges at the edge of the water. Gestation lasts 30 to 37 days. Young are born blind and helpless; their eyes open in about 4 to 5 days.
The female cares for her young until they are weaned, which takes about 12 to 15 days. Young often reach sexual maturity before age one. Marsh rabbits can live up to four years, but most do not live past one year.
Did You Know?
- Marsh rabbits are the only mammal in the Bay region that is restricted to marshes and swamps.
- They are excellent swimmers that will often dive underwater to escape from predators.
- Marsh rabbits are emi-aquatic, spending time both on the land and in the water. They usually live alone and are nocturnal.
- Marsh rabbits 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
- Chesapeake Bay: Nature of the Estuary, A Field Guide by Christopher P. White
- Wildlife Information: Marsh Rabbit – Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries
- Animal Diversity Web: Sylvilagus palustris – University of Michigan Museum of Zoology