New England Rabbits Have Been Around Since The 1880s
Why are the New England rabbits being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act? It’s because their population has been declining over the years. The range of this rabbit has been reduced by 75%.
They were seen east of the Hudson River in New York, all of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Southern Maine, Southern Vermont and New Hampshire. But, today they are no longer seen in Vermont.
The reason is their habitat. These rabbits like a thicket and tangled vegetation habitat that is often found in young forests less than 25 years old. Once the forest contains larger trees, the shrub layer tends to thin and the rabbits find it unsuitable.
Forest insect’s outbreaks, hurricanes, ice storms and wild fires have also played a part in the declining habitat. These all disturbed the forest growth that promoted thicket growth.
In the colonial days, much of New England’s forests were cleared for planting, then in the 1900s the farmlands were abandoned which allowed for many thickets to develop. But today these habitats are old and ageing and no longer suitable for the rabbits.
Luckily, the introduction of new plants such as the multi-flora rose, honeysuckle bush and autumn olive, within the last century has changed the type of habitat available to the New England rabbits. Many rabbits can now be found in patches of these plants.
Large groups of White-tailed deer can be found throughout the range of these rabbits. The deer also eat some of the same plants the rabbits do but the deer also affect the structure and density of many plants that provide thicket habitat for the rabbits.
In the early 1900s until 1960s a new species of rabbit was introduced into New England. It was called an Eastern cottontail. They seemed to thrive on a greater variety of habitats than their relatives, the New England cottontail.
The Eastern rabbits could detect predators sooner, which allowed them to live in different habitats such as, field, farms and forest edges. The Eastern rabbit is gradually replacing the New England rabbit in many habitats.
The New England and Eastern rabbits are very similar in appearance. They both have a stocky body, large hind legs, long ears and a tail that looks like a cotton ball. Their coat varies from a reddish-brown to a black or grayish-brown.
The small differences between the two species can be found in the length of the ear, body built and sometimes a presence of a black line on the front of each ear and a black spot between the ears.
To exactly identify these rabbits, scientists are using DNA testing on the rabbit’s fecal droppings. Since rabbit’s droppings can be found throughout their territory, collecting these droppings can provide a picture of where the New England rabbits can be found.
These New England rabbits are being helped by the US Fish & Wildlife Service as well as state and federal agencies to preserve New England’s only native cottontail.
For more information, contact.
US Fish and Wildlife Service,www.fws.gov
Northeast RegionUS Fish and Wildlife Service,www.northeast.fws.gov
New England Rabbits - Here's more info on wild rabbits
What to do if you find a wild rabbit?
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