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The Carletonian

Arb Notes: Rabbits in the Arb

<y Fat Choy!  Happy Year of the Rabbit! 

The start of the Chinese New Year seems like the perfect opportunity to get to know one of the Arb’s (and Northfield’s) most prevalent lagomorphs.  Although their long incisors may make them look deceptively rodent-like, rabbits are part of the order that includes hares and pika.  As a technical point of interest, there actually are differences between hares and rabbits.  Hares have larger ears and hind legs, and their babies are much more independent at birth – unlike rabbits, baby hares are born furred, mobile and with their eyes open.  Minnesota has three native bunnies: the eastern cottontail (a rabbit), the snowshoe hare, and the white-tailed jackrabbit (both hares).  The eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) is the most prevalent and the one most likely to be seen hopping around campus or the Arb.

Multiplying like…

Eastern cottontails certainly live up to their reproductive stereotype.  A female cottontail that gives birth to a litter of four to six babies can be bred again within hours(!) and then produce another litter three weeks later!  This prolific lifestyle is necessary because eastern cottontails have an abundance of predators and only about 1% of rabbits make it to age two.  Rabbit hunting is also popular in Minnesota, in 2000, over 60,000 cottontails were harvested (MN DNR).

Ew!  They do what???

Rabbits and hares often eat their own droppings.  This seemingly gross habit is actually a clever adaptive method – bunnies can dart out, nibble food, and then quickly return to to the underbrush, where they can safely (re)digest their pellets and absorb all the nutrients.

Bound, bound and rebound.

Finding rabbits, or at least evidence of rabbits is fairly easy in the winter.  Rabbit tracks are easy to identify in the snow: they land on their smaller front feet, then their back legs touch down in front of their front paws.  Often it looks like a v-shape with two small dots at the back and then two dashes ahead. 

If you want an opportunity to explore the Arb (and possibly see rabbits or rabbit tracks), the Cole Student Naturalists are leading a snowshoe tour starting from the Arb office on Friday, February 18th at 3:45pm!  There will be snacks!  Come join us!

-Jasmine Cutter ’13 for the Cole Student Naturalists

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