By Siouxxanne Ellis April 23, 2019
We’re most likely to see them in the corners of our yards, slipping under bushes, or camouflaged against the tree line in the dim light of sunrise or sunset. Their gray-brown fur makes them look just like another shadow against the background, and they move silently around us every day. It’s little wonder why rabbits are depicted as stealthy and cunning tricksters in the folklore of many cultures.
As Easter approaches this month, the Easter Bunny will be hiding Easter Eggs where they will be hard to find. Who better to sneakily hide them away than the elusive rabbit? Of course, rabbits don’t lay eggs, but they are still associated with Easter and the celebration of new life due to their high fecundity, that is, how quickly they produce many, many offspring. Eastern Cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus), the most prevalent rabbit in North Carolina, breed from January through September, and are capable of producing seven litters of about five young each in just one year.
How are we not overrun with rabbits by now if they breed so fast? While we might think that rabbits are a symbol of good luck, a rabbit probably wouldn’t agree. Despite their careful nature and amazing speed, rabbits are still a prey animal and they face high mortality rates, with less than 20% of rabbits born each year making it to the next year. Despite the high mortality rate, rabbits are still quite abundant here in North Carolina, with Eastern Cottontails being the 9th most identified animal by Candid Critters here in North Carolina.
Eastern Cottontails are found in great numbers statewide, but they are not the only species of rabbit in North Carolina. The Appalachian Cottontail (Sylvilagus obscurus) is found in the mountains of North Carolina, and looks virtually identical to the Eastern Cottontail. The Appalachian Cottontail is slightly smaller than the Eastern Cottontail, and with shorter ears, but the best indicator is location. Appalachian Cottontails prefer to live at high elevations, about 2,500 feet, while Eastern Cottontails are usually found at lower elevations.
The third species of rabbit found in North Carolina is the Marsh Rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris), nicknames Bluetails due to their grayish tail which makes them easy to distinguish from Eastern Cottontails if you know to look for it. Marsh Rabbits are found in wet habitats across the entire eastern half of North Carolina.
The map below shows the expected ranges of all three species of rabbit. Eastern Cottontails can be spotted in any county in North Carolina, but counties shown in blue have only identifications of Eastern Cottontails in Candid Critters to date. Counties to the left of the red line have the possibility of spotting Appalachian Cottontails, and counties marked in red have confirmed images of them in Candid Critters. Counties to the right of the green line have the possibility of spotting Marsh Rabbits, and counties marked in green have confirmed images of them in Candid Critters.
We know there are many secretive rabbits in our state, but this map shows just how few of those we actually manage to catch on camera. If you live within the ranges of one of these rabbits and want to see if they are some near you, go to Candid Critters Sign Up to help run camera traps and put these rabbits on the map. Who knows, you may even spot one hiding Easter Eggs.