Facts, Identification & Control
Rabbits are members of the order Lagomorpha and Family Leporidae. These small to medium-sized mammals are familiar to humans. Various species exist around the world. The most commonly encountered species is the cottontail rabbit.
Behavior, Diet & Habits
Rabbits are small, furry creatures which many consider, at most, a nuisance. They don’t invade homes. They can cause damage to gardens and ornamental plantings. These are docile, skittish animals. Rabbits, like most animals, are opportunistic feeders. They prefer various types of vegetation and sections of woody plants and certainly won’t pass on an opportunity to dine on landscaping in an open garden. Rabbits don’t like to travel far for their meals, so, if possible, they likely have a residence close by. Most breeds choose to live in burrows, but some will make a home above ground. Areas with piles of debris, thick vegetation or heavy brush are likely places to find them.
In cottontail rabbits, females can produce two to six litters a year, depending on season length. The number of young also varies from two to six for the same reasons.
What sort of damage do rabbits cause?
Rabbits are ravenous plant eaters and classified as herbivores. Rabbits in urban and suburban areas damage gardens, landscaping, trees, berry plants, fruits, bushes and grasses. Garden plants commonly eaten by rabbits are beans, carrots, lettuce, peas and beets. Trees and ornamental bushes are damaged when rabbits chew on the bark and may completely girdle the tree. Berries such as cherries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries, are just some of the rabbit’s berry preferences. Rabbits may also chew into and cut soft, small irrigation lines and will burrow under outdoor buildings as they seek sheltered nesting sites.
Another problem that can result from rabbits is their role as carriers of tularemia. Although this disease is rare, humans and pets can become sick by coming into contact with a sick rabbit or being bitten by an infected tick or deer fly.
When to ask for your pest management professional’s help for rabbit management is a question that may have many answers. Generally, the answer depends on the homeowner’s tolerance of rabbits and the damage associated with their presence. Rabbits are herbivores that eat just about any vegetation, leafy plant, fruit, vegetable, root, bulbs and bark of young trees or bushes. They also dig holes in the yard and under sheds, decks or the home as they construct their burrows.
It is time to call your PMP when the rabbit population is so large that they exceed the homeowner’s damage threshold. In addition, disease transmission potential is critically important and should also be considered. The primary disease threat from wild rabbits is tularemia. The major ways that tularemia is transmitted to humans is from the bites of infected ticks, deer flies and contact with infected rabbits.
If needed, the homeowner can contact a pest management professional for help with:
- Identifying the animal that is damaging gardens and landscape plants. Rabbits cut plant branches that are normally less than 18 inches off the ground and cut those branches at a 45-degree angle. Also, their pea-sized fecal pellets and tracks help determine the presence of rabbits, not another animal such as a vole.
- Preventing rabbit damage by implementing exclusion techniques such as rabbit fencing, trunk guards for small trees, electric netting and traps.
- Habitat management such as removing brush piles or other shelter sites, installing mesh to the underside of sheds and ensuring the bottom of the building is about one foot above ground helps prevent rabbit burrowing.
- A service contract that will likely provide follow-up services, exclusion device inspection and a maintenance agreement.
- Compliance with wildlife requirements and regulations so the homeowner is not liable for violation of any laws and rulings of the rabbit management program.
Signs of a Rabbit Infestation
Rabbits are capable of stripping gardens and vegetation which would be visible sign of their presence. The rabbits and their pellets would be other signs.
Controlling rabbits is an uncomplicated process and can be done, with the help of a professional in some cases. The recommended method is habitat removal. With dense areas of growth removed, rabbits will relocate to new areas to live, feed and breed. This will impact rabbit activity in the present and future. Another method of exclusion is wire fencing. This will help protect specific areas, but does little to affect rabbit behavior.