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Swamp Rabbit (Swamper)

Order Lagomorpha : Family Leporidae : Sylvilagus aquaticus

Description
Largest of the "cottontails" within its range; pelage coarse and short for a rabbit; upper parts grayish brown, heavily lined with blackish; rump, upper side of tail, and back of hind legs dull ochraceous brown; sides of head and body paler than back, less suffused with blackish; underparts, including underside of tail, white except for buffy underside of neck; front legs and tops of hind feet cinnamon rufous. External measurements average: total length, 534 mm; tail, 69 mm; hind foot, 106 mm; ear, 70 mm. Weight, 1.5-3 kg.

Habitat
Low, wet areas near rivers, streams, lakes, or ponds; hardwood bottomland swamps, canebreaks, and thickets.

Behavior
These cottontails are generally solitary, coming together with conspecifics primarily during the breeding season.  Dominance hierarchies exist among males; these determine mating priority. Vocal distress calls consist of squeals and high-pitched squeaks.  Swamp Rabbits are seldom found far from water.  They readily take to water and swim well, often to escape predators.  It is active at dawn, dusk, or at night; during the day, it can be found resting on a dry area that is surrounded by water.  They probably have two litters of four to six young per year; the breeding season is from January to September.

Geographic Range
South-central United States

Females and males of this species are about the same size, which is uncommon for this genus (females are usually larger). The pelage is brown on top with some white underneath, especially on the underside of the tail, which gives this genus the common name of cottontail. Ears are of medium size, around 2.6 inches in length. Hair is short and thin. Females have four or five pairs of mammae.

Food Habits
The diet of S. aquaticus consists of marsh and swamp plants and reeds as well as cultivated plants. Two types of pellets are formed--soft green ones and brown ones. The soft green pellets are re-ingested to maximize the nutrients gained from food. Microorganisms attach to these pellets in the gut and can increase the amount of nutrients extracted the second time around.

Reproduction
During the breeding season, males fight to gain access to females in estrous. Breeding in this species occurs almost year round. After a gestation period of 40 days, between 1 and 6 young are born. Birth occurs in nests made by the females. Nest holes for S. aquaticus are on top of the ground and are made of dead vegetation surrounding a fur inner lining. Young reach adult size by 30 weeks.

Economic Importance for Humans

Positive
Most cottontails are hunted for both meat and fur, and Swamper is no exception.  Hunting for sport purposes is also common.

Negative
The Swamper can damage crops and other vegetation important to humans.

Conservation
This species is quite common, but future numbers may be threatened by habitat destruction. In addition, excessive hunting has depleted many populations.

Other Comments
To avoid predation, these rabbits flee in a zig-zag pattern. They can reach speeds of up to 48 mph. They also are good swimmers, and they are known to hide from enemies by lying motionless underwater with only their nose clearing the surface of the water.

Swamp Rabbit







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