Scientific Name: Sylvilagus aquaticus
Description: The swamp rabbit is the largest member of the cottontail genus. Although it is larger in overall size than other cottontails, it has smaller and rounder ears and coarser fur with a more yellow cast. Its thick coarse fur, dense enough to waterproof its skin, is usually a mix of dark brown, rusty brown and black. Its throat and tail are white and it has cinnamon-colored circles around its eyes.
Size: Swamp rabbits weigh between 3 to 6 pounds. Their total length varies from 16-22 inches. Males are generally slightly larger than females.
Diet: An herbivore, swamp rabbits eat grass, sedges, shrubs, twigs, tree seedlings and tree bark. It typically forages at night.
Predation: Predators of swamp rabbits include the American alligator, raptors, bobcat, gray fox, coyotes, snakes, dogs, and humans.
Typical Lifespan: Few studies have been done that examine the lifespan of the swamp rabbit, but it is estimated that they live an average of 1.8 years, but may live up to 9 years.
Habitat: Swamp rabbits are well named. They prefer to live in swampy lowlands, floodplains, cypress swamps, and along edges of rivers and creeks. They are often found near water and in the cover of thickets, stumps or fallen trees. Then spend the day under cover and emerge at dusk to forage.
Range: Swamp rabbits are found in the Gulf Coast and south-central region of the United States.
Life History and Reproduction: All the members of a swamp rabbit population breed around the same time (which is called synchronous breeding). Breeding season typically falls between February and August. The females give birth to 1 to 6 offspring. They make nests of grasses and twigs in a depression on the ground under a brush pile or log. Newborns eyes open after 4 to 7 days. Young leave the nest after about 2 weeks. Swamp rabbits reach sexual maturity after 23 weeks. Most females will have 2-3 litters per year.
Fun Fact: Swamp rabbits are adept swimmers. When a predator gets close it is likely to jump in the water and swim away or dive under roots or overhangs to escape. In Georgia in 1979 there was a well-publicized incident with a swamp rabbit and then-President Jimmy Carter in which a swamp rabbit being chased by hounds jumped in the water and swam up to President Carter’s fishing boat. He shooed it away by splashing water with a paddle.
Conservation Status: The swamp rabbit is considered secure overall. It is locally abundant in some regions, but in states such as Oklahoma and Missouri its range is rapidly diminishing due to degradation and loss of wetland habitat..
Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Missouri Department of Conservation
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
The Mammals of Texas, by William B. Davis and David J. Schmidly