common rabbit 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. Control is often necessary to reduce
damage, but complete extermination is not necessary, desirable,
or even possible.
eastern cottontail is approximately 15 to 19 inches in length and
weighs two to four pounds. Males and females are basically the same
size and color, appearing gray or brownish with a short tail and
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.
will devour a wide variety of green vegetation, especially in the
spring when young, succulent plant material is present. Rabbit damage
can be identified by gnawing on older woody growth, clean-cut clipping
of young stems, distinctive round droppings, and tracks.
cottontail's life expectancy is 12 to 15 months, however, they have
an extremely high reproductive potential, with as many as four litters
per year, the first usually appearing in March. Gestation period
is 28 or 29 days and there may be as many as six young per litter.
The young are born in a shallow nest in the ground with their eyes
closed and with little fur. Young leave the nest in two to three
weeks. Predation, weather, disease and encounters with cars and
hunters contribute to a high annual death rate. Up to 35 percent
of the young die within the first month, and 65 percent of the remaining
animals die during the winter.
modification and exclusion techniques provide long-term and non-lethal
control. Remove dense, heavy vegetative cover, brush piles, weed
patches, junk dumps and stone piles in or adjacent to the landscape.
Fencing made from chicken wire, with mesh less than one inch, can
be placed around herbaceous plants. The fence must be at least two
feet in height with the bottom buried at least three inches. Quarter-inch
wire hardware cloth made into 18 to 24 inch cylinders and buried
at least three inches will protect trunks of young orchard trees
or woody landscape plants.
animal traps, effective in winter, can be baited with corncobs,
oats, dried apples or rabbit droppings. Traps are sold through garden
centers, hardware stores or gardening catalogs. Place the traps
in areas where rabbits have been feeding or resting close to suitable
cover. If the trap fails to catch any rabbits within a week, move
the trap to a different location.
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.
The use of dried blood or fox or coyote urine has also been
effective in repelling these animal pests. Follow directions carefully
with the predator urine. Some formulations may need to be reapplied
after a rain.
from Susan R. Metzger and Judy Weisberg, Ohio State University Extension,
2001. Image from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.