The state of Washington is home to two native and two introduced species of rabbits. The native species are residents of grasslands where sagebrush thrive. The introduced species have adapted well to the state's diverse environments. Washington's rabbits include one of the smallest and rarest species, the pygmy.
According to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, wild rabbits eat differently depending upon the season. They eat bark, twigs, buds of trees and pine needles during the winter. During the rest of the year, they generally eat grasses, seeds, wild flowers and crops. Rabbits are coprophages; they eat their droppings to extract nutrients that are made digestible through the elimination process.
Wild rabbits in Washington usually live in burrows or dens. Females create nests called forms, which they line with fur and other debris. In times of plenty, rabbits will form colonies and live in warrens. Otherwise, they nest in gullies, brush and other sheltered areas. The pygmy rabbit, one of Washington's native species, is the only North American rabbit species that digs its own burrow, according to the Animal Diversity Web. Other species will take over vacated burrows or find safe spaces created by nature.
Rabbits have difficult lives in Washington. Raptors, wild cats, fox and domestic dogs prey on them. Many rabbits are killed by automobiles and farm machinery. Baby rabbits are prey for domestic cats, gopher snakes and minks.
Native Species: Nuttall's Cottontail
The Nuttall's cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii) is a small rabbit. It grows to a length of approximately 14 inches. This gray to grayish-brown rabbit has a very small, white tail. It lives in sagebrush, weedy areas and woods in Eastern Washington. It is distinguished by the size of its tail.
Native Species: Pygmy Rabbit
The pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis) is the smallest rabbit found in North American and is about 11 inches long. The pygmy is another sagebrush dweller whose numbers in the wild have dwindled to about 50 in Washington. Although there are other pygmy rabbits, the species found in Washington is distinct from any others, according to the Animal Diversity Web. It's found in the Central Columbia Plateau.
Introduced Species: Eastern Cottontail Rabbit
The Eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) was brought into Washington as a game animal in the 1930s. This light brown rabbit has a prominent white tail and is usually 17 inches long. It lives in thickets and along roadsides. The Animal Diversity Web states that this rabbit has a unique mating ritual that involves boxing and vertical leaps. It is found throughout Washington.
Introduced Species: European Rabbit
The European rabbit is also known as the domestic rabbit or Belgian hare. It is the ancestor of the 80 domestic species of rabbits; it's one of the larger rabbits. It can be 20 to 30 inches long and is found in a variety of colors. The European rabbit is found mostly on the San Juan Islands.
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