by Kyle Sweet, Sanctuary Golf Club Superintendent
In appearance, the Marsh Rabbit is basically a cottontail rabbit without the cottontail. It looks smaller than the Eastern cottontail rabbit, but that’s due to not having as much hair.
They are found in coastal plains from Virginia to Alabama and all throughout Florida but they only live where there is water. Whether it be fresh or salt water doesn’t seem to make a difference to the Marsh rabbit.
They nest in thickets or in logs. We often see them nesting in the thatchy bottom of native grasses such as fakahatchee and spartina grasses all along water edges on the course. Not surprising, they breed year- round and a female can have upwards of seven litters with two to four offspring in each litter.
They are vegetarians and much on grasses, sedges and several varieties of wetland / march plants. Unfortunately, they have an appetite for many ornamental landscape plants on Sanibel and Captiva and have been the scourge of many workers on the island as landscapes, including turfgrasses, are being greatly affected and is currently a big topic of conversation.
Marsh rabbits have several predators, including bobcats, owls, hawks, alligators and probably coyotes as well. All of these predators inhabit the islands and surely would love a rabbit meal. One problem for any predator may be the unique fact that the Marsh rabbit is an excellent swimmer and will swim for long distances to avoid being on the menu. Beyond predators, events such as hurricanes and coastal flooding can take a significant toll on Marsh rabbit populations.
Marsh rabbits are considered to be nocturnal but are very visible during the morning and afternoon hours. Nearly any trip around Sanibel or Captiva at these times will provide for a sight of this prolific local wildlife that is unique in it’s habitat needs, being found all along coastal communites in the Southeastern United States.