Louisiana has 2 species of rabbits: eastern cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) and swamp rabbits (Sylvilagus aquaticus). Although the cottontail is considered more of an upland species and the swamp rabbit a forested wetland (wooded) species, both species occur within our coastal areas.
The eastern cottontail is a typical rabbit with long ears, large hind legs and feet, short front legs and feet, and a short, fluffy tail that is white beneath. The upperparts vary from grayish brown to reddish brown except for the nape which is rusty, and the face and flanks which are gray. The tops of the front and hind feet are white or whitish, and a pale cream-colored eye-ring surrounds the eye. The swamp rabbit resembles the eastern cottontail but is larger and darker in coloration, usually lacking the reddish brown name and white on the tips of the feet.
Cottontails eat a wide variety of grasses as well as cultivated foods such as rye grasses, vetch, chufa, oats, and soybeans. Swamp rabbits eat emergent aquatic vegetation and succulent herbaceous vegetation, such as grasses, sedges, and cane.
One of the main reasons why rabbits can easily withstand heavy hunting pressure is their great fecundity(reproductive potential). Rabbits will breed throughout most of the year, with the main period from February to mid-October. Adult cottontails may have as many as 6 litters per year and young of the year may contribute another 25% to the production.
Litter size for both the cottontail and swamp rabbit varies from one to seven with three to four being the norm. The nest for both species of rabbits is a slight depression in the earth that is filled with grasses mixed with rabbit hair.
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Although the incisors of rabbits resemble those of squirrels, rats, and mice, rabbits are not closely related to the Rodents. Rabbits are in the order Lagomorpha. Lagomoprhs, as they are known, have two sets of upper incisors, whereas rodents have only one set.
Specific population surveys are not conducted for these species; however, the Department's annual hunter harvest survey provides indices to population trend. The 2012 – 13 survey estimated that 22,100 rabbit hunters harvested 180,100 rabbits. In the absence of major habitat modifications, year to year fluctuations in rabbit populations are due primarily to summer rainfall amounts.
Biologists monitored rabbit population response to rotational burning regimes on an old field alluvial site on Sherburne WMA for 6 years. Rabbit use suggested that 2 or 3 year burning cycles were optimal for rabbits.
Resident Small Game Program
The Resident Small Game Program involves management, research and population monitoring activities for bobwhite quail, rabbits, and squirrels. Personnel also develop and participate in the wild turkey research conducted by the Department. Jimmy Stafford, Resident Small Game and Wild Turkey Program Leader, coordinates the Resident Small Game Program.
In order to meet public demands for resident small game, the Resident Small Game Program and Technical Services Program offer technical assistance to improve habitat on public and private lands (http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/assistance-private-landowners-and-m). Program biologists also conduct research to assess and improve management. Several population monitoring surveys are conducted by regional and program biologists to develop population indices and track population trends of small game species. Personnel also represent the Department on various committees which are involved in monitoring and formulating regional and national programs which may have impacts on small game wildlife.