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Rabbits or eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), can do considerable damage to flowers, vegetables, trees and shrubs any time of the year in places ranging from suburban yards to rural fields and tree plantations.



Wild O. cuniculus weigh between 1.5 and 2.5 kg, and are from 38 to 50 cm long. Domestic individuals may be larger. The coat is generally grayish, with black and brown (and sometimes red) sprinkled throughout. The underside of the body is paler gray, and the underside of the tail is white. Melanistic specimens are not unusual.This species (and rabbit species generally) have smaller ears and shorter, less powerful legs than their hares.

Behavior : soil conditions and forage supply permit, they prefer to live in groups in large, complex burrow systems (warrens). A typical colony consists of six to ten adults of both sexes. Colonies have distinct dominance hierarchies, which are particularly important for males, as dominance position determines which male will have preferential access to mates. A male’s position in the social hierarchy means that potentially costly conflicts between males over females are rare.

Habit:Cottontails tend to concentrate in favorable habitats such as brushy fencerows, brush or junk piles, upland thickets, field edges or landscaped backyards where food and cover are suitable. In urban areas, rabbits are numerous and mobile enough to fill any “empty” habitat created when other rabbits are removed. Natural cavities or burrows excavated by woodchucks or other animals are frequently used. Underground dens are used primarily in extreme cold or wet weather and to escape pursuit.

In spring and fall, rabbits use grass or weed shelter called a “form” to create a nest-like cavity on the surface of the ground for protection. Population levels are directly linked to the quantity and quality of the habitat present. Rabbits spend their entire lives in an area of 10 acres or less.

Life Cycle: Rabbits have incisors that grow continuously; they rely on normal occlusion and use to wear them down. They use their premolars and molars to chew food with a sideways motion. They need to be watched for malocclusion (mandibular prognathism); when this occurs, the teeth need to be trimmed every 2-3 weeks, otherwise they are unable to obtain and chew their food and can die of starvation. This genetic problem is usually solved by getting rabbits from vendors who have selected out this recessive trait.



Rabbits have only striated muscle in their esophagus and down including the stomach cardia; they are unable to vomit. Their stomachs are never entirely empty: they can at times have difficulty with ingested hair from grooming. The reasons for hairball obstruction are complex: signs can be anorexia or hunched posture but often the amount of hair in the stomach is only revealed at the time of autopsy. There is some anecdotal evidence that mineral oil is helpful but sometimes surgical intervention is necessary. The cecum is very large with a capacity 10X that of stomach. The colon is divided into proximal and distal portions: “cecotrophs” also known as night feces, or soft pellets are eaten by rabbit directly from anus to increase utilization of B vitamins and proteins. It is important to be sure to provide for the normal ingestion of cecotrophs. Hard pellets are 2/3 of fecal output.

Nasal breathing is rapid, 20-120 times per minute. Since the diaphragm initiates breathing, artificial respiration is performed with an up and down motion of head 30-45 times per minute. Lung volume increases with age. The pharynx is long and narrow, and the rabbit has a large tongue. Intubation is difficult with laryngeal spasms occurring easily.The cardiovascular system has some anatomical structural aspects that have given rise to the use of the rabbit in cardiovascular research. For example, the tricuspid valve of heart has only 2 cusps (vs 3 in most mammals) as well as a small group of pacemaker cells. Blood supply to brain is mainly via the internal carotid artery .

The rabbit urogenital system produces urine that is different from other animals: excretion is usually from 50-75 ml/kg daily with the urine varying in color from yellow to reddish to brown—it is clear in young rabbits but can be very cloudy in adults. The residue on pans needs to be scraped, and/or soaked in acid before cleaning; high volume often necessitates minimum twice weekly maintenance.Their body temperature ranges from 38.5-39.5 C. Their ears have large surface area and are highly vascular; due to this the ears are a common site for blood collection. The ears also have thermoregulatory function.

Rabbits Babies

Rabbits Babies

Spermatogenesis in males takes around 54 days and occurs between January and February depending on geographic location. Gestation lasts from 60 to 63 days. Litter size ranges from 1 to 19 pups; the average is 6. The pups weigh approximately 250 grams. The young are born blind, limp-eared and pug-nosed.

After 10 days the eyes open, the pups weigh 600 grams and their ears begin to erect in true coyote fashion. Twenty-one to 28 days after birth, the young begin to emerge from the den and by 35 days they are fully weaned. They are fed regurgitated food by both parents. Male pups disperse from the dens between months 6 and 9, while females usually stay with the parents and form the basis of the pack. Adult size is reached between 9 and 12 months.

Sexual maturity is reached by 12 months. Coyotes hybridize with domestic dogs and occasionally with gray wolves.Female coyotes gestate and nurse their young. Both male and female coyotes bring food to their young after they are weaned and protect their offspring. The young sometimes stay with the pack into adulthood and learn how to hunt during a learning period.Coyotes have been known to live a maximum of ten years in the wild and 18 years in captivity.

Damage: Rabbits can feed on plants in your yard year round. They eat flowers and vegetables in spring and summer, and in fall and winter, they eat woody plants. Only a few garden crops, such as tomatoes, seem to be immune from rabbit problems. Rabbits will eat most flowers, but tender flower shoots such as young tulip stems are a favored meal. Rabbits damage woody plants by gnawing bark or clipping off branches, stems, and buds.



In winter, when the ground is covered with snow for long periods, rabbits can severely damage landscape plants, orchards, forest plantations, and park trees and shrubs. Some young plants are clipped off at snow height, and larger trees and shrubs may be killed when rabbits remove a large amount of the bark

The character of the bark on woody plants influences rabbit browsing. Most young trees have smooth, thin bark with green food material just beneath it. Such bark provides an easy food source for rabbits. The thick, rough bark of older trees often discourages gnawing. Even on the same plant, rabbits avoid the rough bark but feed on and damage the young sprouts that have smooth bark.

Gastrointestinal diseases There are a number of different gastrointestinal diseases—actually GI disease in the rabbit is a complex family of diseases and obtaining rabbits from reputable vendors who screen for these is the usual practice. We present two specific illnesses here as examples.

Tyzzer’s diseaseThis bacterial disease, caused by Clostridium piliforme, also affects other lab animals, particularly rodents. It occurs most often in weanling animals, presenting with watery diarrhea, anorexia, dehydration, and lethargy. It can have a short course, with death after a day or two, or go on to become a chronic state, with weight loss. The route is oral, via spores. A high level of sanitation is critical to help prevent this illness; preventing stress is important as well. Again, be sure your source for the rabbits is able to assure disease-free animals. Since the spores can infect different species, sanitation measures are critical throughout the entire animal facility.



Control:Exclusion techniques, such as fences and tree wraps, are the most effective way to control damage and the only way to control damage in areas where rabbit populations are high. In areas with moderate damage, repellents have been used successfully to reduce damage. Because of the cottontail’s high reproductive potential, trapping and other lethal techniques are not effective over long time periods. If the property owner does not feel he or she can properly handle the damage control techniques necessary, many wildlife pest control operators are available throughout the state that deal with wildlife problems. Contact your county extension office or the yellow pages for information regarding these operators.

No toxicants or fumigants are registered for use against rabbits. The use of moth balls or crystals is not labelled for rabbit control. Chemical repellents using the fungicide thiram may discourage rabbit browsing. Repellents should be applied before damage occurs and after a rain, heavy dew or new plant growth.

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