The pygmy rabbit is the smallest rabbit in the world. It has many predators due to its size. So, unfortunately, it has become endangered over the years. The only confirmed population currently can be found in the area of Washington State. Zoos in the regions surrounding have been working to correct this with new breeding programs. Although, all purebred pygmy rabbits are thought to be gone now, species from other areas, such as the Idaho pygmy rabbit, are now being used in the program to help them survive. These rabbits are important because of their role in the local ecosystem. Other animals depend on them for their own survival. Many plants also depend on their waste as well.
Like other rabbits, the pygmy can often be found scurrying around in search of food. It is an herbivore. It prefers to go out and look early in the morning and right before dark for plants to eat. It uses all four legs, but relies on the hind ones to jump. It is a mammal and gives live birth to babies. A mother pygmy rabbit, referred to as a doe, may have up to three litters in any season. Male adult rabbits are called bucks. Rabbits like to live in groups or communities known as colonies.
This rabbit is very small. It has short ears not the big floppy ones. The pygmy rabbit is usually gray with soft fur. It does not have a cotton white tail either. In fact, it usually has no white at all on its tail. For a rabbit, it also has small hind legs. They have claws to dig their burrows. They also have large dark eyes which can see almost completely around them. This helps them stay aware of their surroundings and escape their enemies.
A pygmy rabbit starts out life in a nest that has been dug into a burrow by its mother. A baby rabbit is called a kit. It can have up to five brothers or sisters, usually. The rabbit rapidly grows within that first year. It is ready to be a parent itself as early as that next year. The gestation period, time spent in its mother’s body, is only about a month long.
A pygmy rabbit typically lives for three to five years. As many as half of the newborn rabbits may die in the very first month. As few as one out of five left may live to adulthood. Predators are the cause of these high death rates.
The pygmy rabbit weighs approximately one pound. It is usually between nine and 12 inches long. You can hold these rabbits in one hand! This makes it the smallest rabbit in the world. The females are a little larger than the males.
Today, the pygmy rabbit is found in the Pacific Northwest in the Columbia Basin of Washington. However, it has been found in previous years in some areas of California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. It likes to live in the desert-like areas that are heavy with sagebrush. It uses this sagebrush food and for protection. The rabbits hide in the sagebrush so that predators can’t find them. The pygmy rabbit is also the only one of two types that actually digs a deep home in the ground, or burrow. These burrows can be up to three feet deep. They widen as they go and break off into different chambers. These have multiple entrances.
During the winter, snow may be on the ground for months at a time. During this time, the pygmy rabbits will create tunnels through the snow to reach the sagebrush as needed. Otherwise, they stay in their burrows until it warms again.
Most of the pygmy rabbit’s diet comes from the sagebrush surrounding its home. It will also eat grasses, when available, during warmer months. Pygmy rabbits eat a completely vegetarian diet, making it an herbivore. Rabbits prefer to eat heavily when first eating either in the morning or evening. Then, it slows down and grazes for a little while longer before returning to its burrow.
Friends and Enemies
Birds of prey such as hawks, condors, and owls are enemies to these rabbits. Other predators include large cats like the bobcat, coyotes, and foxes. Also, because of their small size, pygmy rabbits even fall prey to smaller predators such as weasels and ravens. Because of their vegetarian diet, no animals fear them. They are friends of other smaller animals in the basin.
However, the other largest threat to this species is humans. Humans put them in danger by turning their habitat areas into farmlands and other uses. By developing this land, the rabbits are forced out and must try to find new homes and food. Wildfires cause damage to their homelands as well.
Suitability as Pets
Rabbits may be a good pet for you. But, they like to scurry around, they will often run and try to hide when approached. They also scare easily and can kick or bite when handled. This could be dangerous for homes with small children. In addition, they may be easily hurt themselves. They also do not like change very much. They prefer a quiet and calm environment. Loud noises and sudden changes can frighten them. Rabbits require more responsibility than some other common pets. Therefore, they require an adult to be willing to take responsibility and oversee their care. However, the pygmy rabbit is very small and may make a good option for you, if choosing a rabbit as a pet.