Rabbits

rabbit in the grass

The Eastern cotton tail is the local rabbit species. If you see one, there are likely hundreds in the area.

Les Harrison is the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director

Bugs Bunny has amused and entertained millions, if not billions, of viewers since his introduction in 1938. His cavalier approach to challenges and the signature Brooklyn/Bronx accent propelled him, and his creators, to international fame.

Elmer Fudd served as a comic foil for the wisecracking “wascally wabbit!” Fudd, sometimes hunter/sometimes gardener, was always outsmarted by the quick-witted hare.

No matter what the trap or scheme, Fudd’s efforts were always defeated with casual ease by Bugs, who displayed excessive self-confidence and amusement at the anemic efforts.

Invariably, Bugs ended up leaning on a tree or fence post, munching a carrot, with the question, “What’s up, doc?” Unfortunately, many Wakulla County gardeners can sympathize with Elmer Fudd’s frustration in his attempts to defeat the cunning bunny.

Justifiable or not, much of the non-insect damage to gardens and landscapes is blamed on rabbits. In reality, vegetables, fruit and plants are consumed by a variety of wildlife including deer, coyote and many others.

The size of tooth marks, bite pattern and amount of material consumed is helpful in determining which species was snacking in the in the garden. While rabbits can easily clip tender vegetation with the sharp incisors at the front of their mouth, their relatively short height usually limits their reach beyond 15 inches above the ground.

Rabbits typically clip seedlings and leaves with a clean, angled cut remaining on the stem. Preferred stems are usually less than 1/4 inch in diameter and tooth marks are 1/16 to 1/8 inches wide.

The native rabbit in north Florida is the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus). These bunnies are commonly found in the eastern half of the U.S. and parts of the west, and the native range extends to parts of Canada and Mexico.

Their dense populations is a reflection on their high rate of reproduction, based on available food and hospitable environmental conditions. With an average 30 day gestation period and weening at just over two weeks, there can be four to six new rabbit generations annually.

With an average of five rabbit kits per litter, two rabbits can produce 20 to 30 replacements per year. To compound the population explosion, rabbits can start reproducing at two months of age.

Young rabbits begin eating at eight days after birth and are completely weaned at age 15 days. Mother rabbits will leave the young unattended during the daylight hours and feed them only twice a day, morning and night which encourages foraging for these ever-hungry animals.

Were it not for the native natural enemies and exotic predators, Wakulla County would be quickly covered in rabbits. Snakes, owls, hawks, coyotes and many other carnivores are only too happy to dine on the careless rabbit which strays too far beyond cover.

The human residents take a toll, also. While rabbits can run almost 20 miles per hour in short bursts, their timing in heavy vehicle traffic is occasionally faulty and fatal.

Still, gardeners have to go to great lengths to overcome the temptations offered by a vegetable garden or well-groomed landscape. Fine mesh fences, repellents, and dummy predators all work to some degree.

In reply to Bugs’ inquiry of “What’s up Doc?”, Elmer could easily have replied, “The unending persistence and creativity of your cousins.”

To learn more about eastern cottontail rabbits Wakulla County and how to control their damage, contact your UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/

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