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Rabbit WN 2-15-19 feat

Rabbits are voracious predators on gardens

Benefits of Living in Wakakulla County

One of the many benefits of living in Wakulla County is the relatively mild winters. While the days and nights are not the subtropical temperatures of south Florida in February, the thermometer readings are far about the frigid readings so common in much of the country.

A secondary advantage of the local climate is the opportunity for anyone to grow their own leafy cool-season vegetables.  These healthy menu choices flourish in the brisk temperatures and have relative, by comparison, few insect problems when compared to warm season gardens.

Uninvited Garden Guests

Alas, there are still a voracious garden predators lurking mostly unseen and awaiting the opportunity hop over and make an uninvited dinner appearance. Unfortunately, many Wakulla County gardeners experience frustration in attempts to defeat the cunning residents of the wild.

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. Even migrating birds can inflict damage.

The size of tooth marks, the bite pattern, and the size of the material consumed is helpful in determining which species was snacking in the in the garden or on the shrubs. 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.

Rabbit WN 2-15-19 insert

The eastern cotton tail is the local rabbit species. If you see one, there are likely hundreds in the area. Photo By: Les Harrison

The Native Rabbit in North Florida

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.

Foraging Rabbits

Young rabbits begin eating at about a week 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 every 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 or luckless rabbit which strays too far beyond cover.

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

Keeping Gardens Protected

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.

While the cute little bunnies with their pink noses are ever a threat, at least the weather is cooler. Gardens and landscape plants are always a dining option for some creature.

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://wakulla.ifas.ufl.edu/

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions, or affiliations. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A&M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating

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