Friday, August 1, 2014

Warning: CUTE factor!

Photo credit: USFWS – Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge. 
A LKMR as seen on a research camera on Big Pine Key, FL
Big Pine Key, where I live and work, is home to several endangered species. One that I’m interested in, because they’re often forgotten because they aren’t large and exciting mega-fauna, is the Lower Keys marsh rabbit (Sylvilagus palustris hefneri). The LKMR is a subspecies of the marsh rabbit, which is not considered endangered, but because these are only found from Big Pine Key to Key West, they have that subspecies designation.

There are volunteers at our Refuge who have told me they’ve never seen a LKMR. I think that is for two reasons: 1) LKMRs are few in number and very skittish on Big Pine and 2) You have to know where to look! They aren’t as common as Eastern cottontails, like I know back in New York. And they certainly are too shy to be in your yard nibbling. Where I have seen them most, is driving down a dead end gravel road at dusk, or I surprise them as I come around a corner on the road, and they’ve been grazing on the shoulder. As soon as they think they’ve been spotted… off they go!

Fun fact: In the 1980′s Hugh Hefner’s corporation donated money to their research and conservation efforts, thus their subspecies name: hefneri!

Four LWMRs grazing on a dead end road. No through traffic, and the houses that are on this road, seemed to be closed up for the season. (Yes, there are 4…the blob furthest to the right is 2 rabbits close together)
LKMRs are considered endangered because their population numbers have dropped very low due to habitat destruction and fragmentation due to commercial and residential development: the same old sad story, right? There is also worry of feral domestic cats hunting and eating LKMRs, which doesn’t help their situation. Naturally, these rabbits have few native predators. The only noted mammal that I suppose MAY harass them, are the raccoons. But I highly doubt a raccoon would take a rabbit and eat it. There are no foxes, wild cats like bobcats, or coyotes. There are predatory birds like hawks, owls, and eagles, but the LKMRs live in dense vegetation, which would make it very difficult for a bird to see from above, and have access to catching them.

Premium habitat includes “higher” elevation (so in the Keys, only several feet above sea level, usually the center of an island), freshwater wetlands, hardwood hammocks, and they require dense grasses and sedges for feeding, cover, and nesting. The few times I’ve seen them out in the open, dense cover has been only a few bounds away.

A Lower Keys marsh rabbit seen on Big Pine Key, FL.

 I quite enjoy seeing these small rabbits. Some people may say “Oh a rabbit is a rabbit”, but it’s just not true. In Alaska I was captivated by the behaviors and physicality of the snowshoe hares, and in NY, even though they’re very common, I love to learn about the Eastern cottontails. A past professor of mine, John (he who inspired me to blog!), just recently wrote an blog entry about small mammal live-trapping. He began by explaining that most of us, when asked to think about mammals, immediately think of our pets, farm animals, or zoo animals! In fact, this is a skewed representation of our mammals on Earth. Most of our critters are small and maybe don’t seem as “cool” as glamorous as lions, and tigers, and bears… I do like to learn about them, photograph them, and be allowed to see them in their native habitats.

A wonderful resource, although perhaps a little dated, is the Lower Keys March Rabbit Species Profile, that was written by biologists at the Refuge I’m interning at: Lower Keys Marsh Rabbits.

Since I arrived here, I’ve been trying and trying to capture my own camera trap images or videos of these bunnies. I was finally successful, although the video isn’t the greatest. I will share it though, because darn it! I finally got one!


1 comment:

  1. Yes, he is there, and be proud, they have such thick fur, and I do not like to think of coats all those years ago from their skins, now I guess man-made is used more, apart from mink and the likes. Hope this year further south is going well, so differ to the Kenai Peninsula. Cheers, Jean.,


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