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Although Texas has a fair diversity of mammals -- 181 species at last count, including bears, big cats, wolves and a bewildering array of rodents -- it doesn't have many species of wild rabbit. The state has, in fact, just four native lagomorphs: three rabbits and one hare.
Like all three Texan rabbits, the swamp rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus) belongs to the genus of cottontail rabbits, so called because of their distinctive white tails. In Texas, the swamp rabbit’s range is limited to the eastern side of the state, where it inhabits marshes and riverside forests. Unlike most rabbits, this species not only can swim, it often chooses to do so and with waterproof fur is well adapted to its soggy surroundings. The diet reflects the habitat -- swamp rabbits seem to eat mostly sedges and grasses. Although the species overall is in no danger, it has suffered from the loss of much of its wetland habitat.
As its name suggests, the desert cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonni) is adapted to much drier habitats, including scrub, grassland and deserts in the western half of Texas. It is most active in the early evening and at night, spending much of the day hiding in thick vegetation or the burrows of other animals. Desert cottontails have slightly longer ears than the swamp rabbit and eastern cottontail. They can climb to a certain extent, although no rabbit is particularly agile in that regard. Ongoing threats from habitat destruction and hunting exist, although the species remains abundant and is not regarded as being in any danger.
Widespread through much of eastern and central Texas, the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) is an adaptable species, found in habitats ranging from pastures to forests and with its main requirement being thick vegetation of some sort. Their relationship with humans is turbulent, with the species being hunted in large numbers as a game animal and often becoming a nuisance to farmers and gardeners. Despite this and some destruction of its various habitats, the species is common and, if anything, appears to be increasing.
Distinguished by their extremely long ears, jackrabbits are actually hares, and the black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) is the only one native to Texas, where it has a wide distribution. This species prefers dry habitats, including deserts, scrub and dry grassland. Although the species overall is not in imminent danger of extinction, some populations are threatened by a range of human activities, including fire, the introduction of exotic carnivores and competing herbivores, hunting and habitat fragmentation.
- American Society of Mammalogists: Mammals of Texas
- Museum of Texas Tech University: Texas Mammals
- The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Sylvilagus aquaticus
- South Carolina Department of Natural Resources: Swamp Rabbit -- Sylvilagus aquaticus
- The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Sylvilagus audubonii
- Animal Diversity Web: Sylvilagus audubonii -- Audubon’s Cottontail
- The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Sylvilagus floridanus
- Animal Diversity Web: Sylvilagus floridanus -- Eastern Cottontail
- The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Lepus californicus
- Animal Diversity Web: Lepus californicus -- Black-Tailed Jackrabbit
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images