Carolina marsh rabbit is one funny bunny

One morning several years ago I was letting our dog Finn out to attend to his morning business. When I opened the door into the backyard I was nearly knocked over as he bolted for the fence. 

In the half-light of dawn, I couldn't tell what was generating all of the excitement until a small, dark figure took one final hop, plopped into the flooded marsh behind our house and swam quickly, but effortlessly, to the other side. 

Finn was foiled again, this time by Sylvilagus palustris, the Carolina marsh rabbit.

There are four wild rabbit species native to South Carolina. These are the well-known Eastern cottontail, the Appalachian cottontail, the swamp rabbit and the marsh rabbit. Only Eastern cottontails and marsh rabbits are found here on Daniel Island. While they have plenty of similarities, there are several differences that can help distinguish between these two cousins.

It would be rare to see a cottontail rabbit in the water. They are runners and prefer to eat, sleep and elude predators on dry land. Their speed and erratic changes of direction make them tough to catch.  

Marsh rabbits have smaller legs and tend to stay close to pond-side thickets, swamps and marshes where they will duck quickly into dense cover if frightened. And they don't think twice about swimming as an avenue of escape. They are strong swimmers and can move quickly in the water.

At the risk of offending the marsh rabbits, they look a bit like cottontails that crossbred with rats. In addition to their smaller legs, their sub-sized ears give them a bit of a hamster look.  

Also, marsh rabbits’ brown or gray fur tends to be more mottled and their tails lack the white underside for which cottontails are known. Both of these traits are helpful for an animal that typically hides or swims from predators versus running away.
Both species breed “like rabbits.” They are polygamous and will give birth several times per year, having roughly four babies at a time.

There currently appear to be at least two mothers with groups of young bunnies in the thicket on the south side of Smythe Lake. There frequently also are marsh rabbits on the trail to the west of the pond at Village Crossing and Josiah streets.  

Try to walk past at a short distance. Walking directly towards them or stopping in their vicinity will almost certainly send the rabbits scurrying into the bushes nearby. 

Early morning and late afternoon are the best times for viewing these critters in the open, so if you are looking for something to do while enjoying tomorrow morning’s cup of “joe,” try out a little marsh rabbit walk. 

Oh, and you might not want to combine this with walking your 

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


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