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3 Types of Rabbits in North Carolina (Pictures, Facts)

North Carolina’s diverse landscapes, ranging from the majestic peaks of the Appalachian Mountains to the serene coastal plains, provide plenty of habitat for a wide variety of wildlife. Among the many species found in North Carolina, rabbits stand out as charming creatures, adorning both urban neighborhoods and rural expanses. In this article, we’ll discuss the three rabbits that make this state their home.

Collage photo rabbits in North Carolina

Rabbits in North Carolina

North Carolina’s landscapes are enriched by the presence of a diverse array of rabbit species. From the Eastern cottontail’s urban antics to the Appalachian cottontail’s mountain retreats and the marsh rabbit’s curious use of wetland habitats. We explore some of the behaviors and habitats of these rabbits, including the role they play in shaping North Carolina’s remarkable ecosystems.

3 Types of rabbits in North Carolina

1. Eastern Cottontail rabbit

Eastern Cottontail
Eastern cottontail rabbit | image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region via Flickr

Scientific Name: Sylvilagus floridanus

The Eastern cottontail rabbit is recognized for its widespread presence throughout North Carolina. Recognized by its soft brown fur and distinctive fluffy white tail resembling a cotton puff, the Eastern cottontail rabbit is a true icon of North Carolina’s wildlife.

From woodlands to grassy meadows, these agile creatures are equally at home in both natural and urban environments and are the most likely rabbit to be encountered if you visit the state. Their adaptable nature enables them to thrive amidst the changing seasons and varied landscapes.

2. Appalachian Cottontail

Appalachian cottontail rabbit
Appalachian cottontail rabbit | image by Cataloging Nature via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Sylvilagus obscurus

Venturing into the western parts of North Carolina, particularly the Appalachian Mountains, you’ll encounter the Appalachian cottontail. This species is well adapted to the cooler climates and rugged terrains of the mountains. Their fur, often blending seamlessly with the forested terrain, offers them a camouflage that aids in their survival. 

3. Marsh rabbit

Marsh rabbit in grassland
Marsh rabbit in grassland | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Sylvilagus palustris

The coastal regions of North Carolina, with their marshes, swamps, and tidal areas, provide an ideal habitat for the marsh rabbit. The marsh rabbit’s story is one of adaptation to the challenges and opportunities presented by coastal environments.

Equipped with strong swimming skills, these rabbits navigate the intricate network of marshes, swamps, and tidal areas with ease. Their specialized dietary preferences for aquatic vegetation further demonstrate their seamless integration into these watery habitats.

North Carolina rabbit habitat

North Carolina’s rabbits showcase a remarkable adaptability to diverse habitats, with differences being shown by each species. The Eastern cottontail ranges from woodlands to grasslands and even urban areas, and so capitalize on their ability to coexist with human-altered landscapes. They seek refuge in brush piles, shrubs, and urban gardens, proving that they are true habitat generalists. 

The Appalachian cottontail has found its refuge within the cooler climates of the mountain and takes to shrubby thickets and forested areas for cover and sustenance.

The marsh rabbit is a master of aquatic habitats, thriving in the wetlands. They harness their swimming prowess to navigate the thick marshes, swamps, and rocky tidal areas with ease. 

North Carolina rabbit diet

Eastern cottontail eating plants
Eastern cottontail eating plants | image by lwolfartist via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

Rabbits are herbivores, meaning they feed on plant matter only. However, the type of plants they feed on varies between species and areas where they are found. 

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The Eastern cottontail’s diet is a testament to its adaptability. These rabbits are herbivores with a varied palate, indulging in a diverse array of plant-based foods. Their menu includes grasses, herbs, clover, and even garden vegetables.

In the challenging environment of the Appalachian Mountains, the Appalachian cottontail rabbit is well adapted to its diet. These rabbits primarily feed on the vegetation found in their mountainous habitats, such as shrubs and small trees.

Similarly, marsh rabbits have evolved to consume aquatic vegetation, such as cattails, rushes, and other water-loving plants. By comparing the diets of these three rabbit species, it becomes evident that each has evolved to capitalize on the resources available in their unique habitats. 

North Carolina breeding habits

Rabbits are renowned for their prolific breeding habits. With the capacity to produce multiple litters within a single year, each comprising several offspring. This rapid reproduction ensures their population stability and holds true for the North Carolina species. 

Eastern Cottontails have a short gestation period of about 28 days, enabling them to produce multiple litters throughout the breeding season.

Each litter can consist of several kits, ensuring a rapid increase in population numbers. Appalachian cottontails follow a similar breeding pattern as their Eastern counterparts.

However, these rabbits have adapted to the specific challenges of their mountainous habitat, and their breeding behaviors align with the availability of resources.

Marsh rabbits typically have two to three litters per year, each consisting of several kits. Their breeding season is closely tied to periods of abundant vegetation. 

North Carolina rabbit roles in ecosystems

Marsh rabbit in wildlife
Marsh rabbit in wildlife | image by Distinguished Reflections via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Rabbits occupy pivotal roles within North Carolina’s ecosystems, acting both as prey and as influential ecosystem engineers. Serving as a crucial food source for predators such as foxes, hawks, and owls, rabbits play an integral role in maintaining the delicate balance of predator-prey relationships. Additionally, their voracious foraging habits impact plant growth and distribution, effectively turning them into “gardeners” who influence the composition of plant communities.

North Carolina rabbit conservation

While rabbits are relatively common in North Carolina, ongoing conservation efforts are important for preserving their habitats and maintaining stable population levels.

The Appalachian rabbit, however, can be rare and difficult to study, suggesting smaller populations that may be declining. Conservation initiatives help safeguard these beloved creatures and contribute to the overall health and balance of the state’s ecosystems.

Samantha Smith B.S.

About Samantha Smith B.S.

Samantha is a wildlife biologist with degrees in animal behavior and environmental biology. Most of her work has been with reptiles, however she has also worked with birds and marine organisms as well. She enjoys hiking, snorkeling, and looking for wildlife.