Written by Michael Small
Did you know there are four species of rabbits in South Carolina? Although Eastern cottontails are the most familiar, there are also three other, somewhat less common species, roaming the South Carolina woods. Many of you may not be aware of this unless you’re an avid rabbit hunter, but it’s true.
Eastern Cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus
This well known species is common throughout the palmetto state. They are distinguishable from the other three species by its appearance and size. These rabbits have a white underside to their tail, a reddish or greyish brown upper body and white underparts. On average, they weigh 2–4 lbs. with females being larger than males.
Marsh Rabbit, Sylvilagus palustris
Fairly common in coastal plain of South Carolina, this particular rabbit has dark, chestnut-colored fur, a unique bluish-grey tail, and very apparent claws on their hind feet. Its ears are also shorter than those of Eastern Cottontails. Marsh rabbits weigh from 2–5 lbs. These rabbits are found in both brackish tidal marshes and wooded floodplains in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
Swamp Rabbits, Sylvilagus aquaticus
Known as cane-cutters, they are the largest species of rabbit in South Carolina weighing from 4.5-6 lbs. Their fur is rusty-brown with black hairs, causing the critter to have a grizzled appearance. This species also has a white underside to its tail. In South Carolina, these rabbits are found in close proximity to water and their habitat varies from swamps and wet scrub/shrub land to forested bottomlands. They are mostly found in Anderson, Oconee, and Pickens Counties in the Savannah River drainage of the western Piedmont. However, little is known about their range in the state and research to investigate this aspect of their life history is currently underway.
Appalachian Cottontail, Sylvilagus obscurus
This is the least common of South Carolina’s rabbit species. These rabbits have a white underside to the tail (similar to the Eastern Cottontail and Swamp Rabbits) and rusty brown fur with black hairs. They also have a grey cheek patch not found in Eastern Cottontails. In addition, their ears are somewhat rounded unlike the Eastern Cottontail. It ranges from 1.75-2.4 lbs. But perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of this species is where it occurs. These rabbits only occur in South Carolina in mountain habitat of the Blue Ridge escarpment in Oconee, Pickens, and Greenville Counties and have a patchy distribution.
If you’d like more information about any of these species please feel free to contact the SCDNR Small Game Program at 803-734-3940.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.