Photo: Mark Buckler
Scientific Name: Sylvilagus palustris
Classification: Small game
Abundance: Locally abundant
Species Profile (PDF)
Marsh rabbit (Wikimedia)
There are three native species of rabbits in North Carolina. While the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) is found throughout the state and the Appalachian cottontail (S. obscurus) is restricted to the mountains of western North Carolina, the marsh rabbit (S. palustris) is found only in or near wet habitats in the eastern part of the state. Marsh rabbits differ from many other rabbit species in that they lead semiaquatic lives and are excellent swimmers.
Marsh rabbits are quite secretive. They live in thick bottomlands and swamps and are active primarily at night.
Marsh rabbits are medium-sized with coarse, dark brown fur, and smaller feet than many other species of rabbits. The dark, bluish-gray color of the underside of the tail distinguishes the marsh rabbit from all other rabbit species that occur within the same range and has led to the nickname “bluetail” that is commonly used in many localities. The marsh rabbit is also referred to as a “cane cutter,” due to its propensity to feed on switch cane, which is a tough, “woody” grass. This species is often incorrectly called a “swamp rabbit,” but the swamp rabbit (S. aquaticus) is a separate, distinct species that does not occur in North Carolina.
Learn more by reading the Marsh Rabbit species profile.
The marsh rabbit is classified as a small game species with season and bag limits.
Seasons and limits (PDF)
Many North Carolinians commonly see rabbits along roadsides or in yards, gardens and vegetable patches. However, most of these rabbits are the more prevalent and widespread eastern cottontail. Marsh rabbits are much less observable due to their secretive nature and preference for swampy, remote areas. Marsh rabbits rarely cause damage to crops or human cultivated plants.
Rabbits build their nests in low, dense vegetation, and are often discovered by unsuspecting homeowners when gardening or mowing the lawn. If you find a nest and there is no adult nearby, don’t worry - this is normal. Female rabbits only visit the nest to feed their young a few times a day, and will avoid drawing any attention to its location when people or other potential predators are nearby. If the young are undisturbed, it is best to leave the nest alone as you found it. Baby rabbits that are unharmed but outside the nest can be gently put back and the vegetation pressed into place to cover them. It can help to run your hands in dirt first to prevent leaving human scent around the nest, which may attract predators. If one or more of the young rabbits are obviously injured, contact a licensed small mammal rehabilitator. If you suspect the nest has been or will be abandoned, place twigs or fresh blades of grass over the opening in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Check back in 24 hours and if the twigs have not been disturbed, contact a rehabilitator.
Young rabbits found outside the nest that are larger than 4 inches long and able to hop around freely are independent juveniles and do not need assistance. Young rabbits that are smaller than 4 inches and are relatively immobile are still under the care of their mother and should be returned to the nest, if possible. For young that are visibly injured or cannot be returned to the nest, contact a licensed small mammal rehabilitator for assistance.
During settlement of the state by Europeans, many citizens used all rabbit species, including the marsh rabbit, as sources of meat for food and fur for clothing. Marsh rabbits reproduce rapidly and are currently classified as a game animal in North Carolina. Today, rabbits are popular among North Carolinians for both sport and food hunting.
2016-2020 Rabbit Hunting and Harvest Estimate Maps (PDF)
1949-2019 Rabbit Harvest and Hunter Trends (PDF)
Marsh Rabbit species profile (PDF)
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (PDF)