February 7, 2002

Rabbits in winter

It often takes indirect, non obvious strategies for an animal to live through the winter in a snow covered landscape.

Most of us are aware that rabbits have fur that is is very efficient for surviving during the winter. Their hairs are much more dense than even the thickest head of hair on a human. And these hairs are wonderful insulators, trapping air that helps retain the body heat of the rabbit and keep them warm. They even have hair on the bottoms of there feet.

But what about eatting? What does the rabbit do when food is so scarce during the winter? Well the rabbit has discovered some very interesting eating strategies to survive the winter.

Rabbits will eat available green forage as long as they can, and will also make use of fallen fruits, such as apples for food. But eventually they run out of greens and switch to a different strategy. They chew through the outer layer of bark of small sapplings and eat the tender tissue underneath.

During this time of year it is easy to locate the presence of rabbits. It always amazes me how many tracks a single rabbit can leave in the snow. If a couple of them are in the area the morning after a fresh snow fall it can look like there was a rabbit rivival with all the tracks. But also there will be another sign of rabbits this time of year. If you look you can find light colored, open spots on the bark of sapplings where the rabbits have been chewing on them. They look like scars and that is exactly what they become on many of these plants.

But the rabbit also has a far more peculiar strategy for surviving the lack of food in winter. As disgusting as it may seem, the rabbit has a pica that enables it to better survive. Rabbits are able to gain substance from eating their own digestive pellets. Apparently their digestive process it inneficient enough that the rabbit is able to find more nourishment in tough times by reprocessing these pellets.

It sounds totally disgusting I know, but the point is that they have found a totally surpricing, unobvious way to survive. It is useless to judge something like this, all we can do is observe and learn, and be aware of the many possibilites and strategies out there. The world is truely a fascinating and amazing place!


February 6, 2002