Sunday, June 18, 2017

Nature: Bunnies prolific breeders but have many predators

A young eastern cottontail grooms itself along a Hocking County lane. Many cottontails fall victim to predators before they reach adulthood. Jim McCormac/For The Dispatch

June 18, 2017

NATURE
Jim McCormac

Hallo, Rabbit,” he said, “is that you?”
“Let’s pretend it isn’t,” said Rabbit, “and see what happens.”
― A. A. Milne (from “Winnie-the-Pooh”)
I’ve been writing natural-history columns for The Dispatch for 12 years and have penned more than 250 articles.
In all that time, I haven’t written a word about one of our most familiar mammals, the eastern cottontail. My apologies to the rabbits.
There’s certainly enough of the fuzz-tailed hoppers to warrant some comment. Cottontails are prolific breeders, with females able to produce five or more litters of up to eight kits in a single season.
Some of those kits will produce litters in their first year.
It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that we could quickly be swarming with rabbits.
But we’re not awash in rabbits, thanks to numerous predators that view them as hopping steaks. Larger hawks, owls, coyotes and foxes make meals of them. Snakes, skunks, weasels and others nosh on nestling rabbits.
A notable rabbit-hunter is the bobcat. I’ve only seen two of these wildcats in Ohio, and both were patrolling rural lanes in June. I suspect they were seeking young rabbits, which are prone to conspicuously foraging in mowed berms in early summer.
The predators must work for their meal, though. A startled cottontail bolts off in a series of rapid zigs and zags, and can briefly touch 18 mph.
If a cottontail makes it out of adolescence, it will be lucky to last three years.
Few people have actually seen cottontail courtship, which is sometimes called “cavorting.” A pair of amorous rabbits face off, a few feet apart. The male will suddenly spring several feet into the air, twisting 180 degrees in the process. The female races beneath the airborne acrobat, and he lands facing her. Cavorting may entail all manner of other rabbit hijinks: chasing, hopping and tussling.
There once was another rabbit species in Ohio. The larger snowshoe hare occurred in extreme northeastern Ohio, in the snowbelt region. This northern rabbit was at its southern limits in Ohio, and changing habitats pushed it out of the state by the early 1900s. A reintroduction scheme initiated by the Ohio Division of Wildlife in the early 2000s failed.
Ohio hunters must settle for the eastern cottontail, and many do. Rabbit hunting is popular, and the bag limit is four rabbits a day. In recent years, the annual harvest is probably about 500,000 animals. Harvests of four decades ago averaged about 2 million rabbits.
A decrease in hunters and an overall decrease in the cottontail population — driven by habitat loss and an increase in certain predators such as coyotes — have combined to cut those annual takes.
Cottontails remain common, though, as many a gardener who has waged war with the furry vegetable-eaters can attest.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Orchid poster available!

Botanist and orchidophile Andrew Gibson has assembled a stunning collage of all of Ohio's native orchids in poster form, aptly titled Native Orchids of Ohio. Click the photo above to see a larger version. It took him years to track down and photograph all 47 native species - and there is also one interesting hybrid included. The photos speak for themselves - they're stunning. The poster, which measures 24" x 36", could be framed and used as wall art. As many people may not even know that orchids occur in Ohio, the poster is sure to be a conversation piece with house guests. It would also be an informative addition to the walls of schools and other institutions of learning.

CLICK HERE for information about ordering the Native Orchids of Ohio poster.

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

A few odds and ends from recent days

I've been away more than home of late, and often busy with necessary work when I am home, so here's a quick and easy post. A hodgepodge of various flora and fauna from recent travels around Ohio, in no particular order.

One of our most striking warblers, a male Common Yellowthroat tees up on a favorite singing perch. Cedar Bog, Champaign County.

A flowerfly in the family Syrphidae grasps the style of a meadow parsnip flower, Pastinaca sativa, and laps pollen from the stigma. Many species in this family, like this one, are excellent bee mimics. Castalia Prairie, Erie County.

Rearing up and displaying its osmeteria is a Black Swallowtail caterpillar. The orange horns emit a foul-smelling chemical and are used to ward off would-be predators. The cat was eating the foliage of poison-hemlock, Conium maculatum, a very toxic plant. Woodman Fen, Montgomery County.

Tiny but beautiful is this Orange Wing Moth, Mellilla xanthometata. It was one of many moths that were lured by light sheets set up by entomologist Jim Lemon at Cedar Bog in Champaign County.

A large wolf spider (species unknown, to me) carries several dozen of her spiderlings on her back. Many small predators would think thrice about messing with this eight-legged mom. Cedar Bog, Champaign County.

One of our showier orchids, the Grass-pink, Calopogon tuberosus. This plant can easily be seen from the boardwalk at Cedar Bog, Champaign County.

Fading fast but still looking good last Saturday was Cedar Bog's most famous botanical resident, the Showy Lady's-slipper, Cypripedium reginae. Champaign County.

As a photographic footnote, I made both of the preceding orchid images with a big telephoto lens, Canon's remarkable 500mm f/4 II. While normally a bird lens, it works very well on larger plants, and provides beautiful background compression. As its working range is considerable, using it allows one to remain on the boardwalk in this case, and not trample into Cedar Bog's rarity-filled sedge meadows.

An especially cooperative Common Baskettail, Epitheca cynosura, poses nicely at Castalia Prairie, Erie County.

The largest genus of plants in Ohio is Carex, a diverse group of over 160 species of sedges, This is one of the more distinctive species, Short's Sedge, Carex shortiana. Germantown Metropark, Montgomery County.

Finally, one of our stranger flies, perched on the pedicel of Dudley's rush, Juncus dudleyi, in a wet prairie. It is a marsh fly (probably a species in the genus Antichaeta). These flies parasitize various freshwater snails. Castalia Prairie, Erie County.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Young rabbits galore

Tis the season for young Eastern Cottontails. June brings young bunnies, and these youngsters, who haven't yet developed street smarts, often forage out in the open. Thus, they are easy pickings for all manner of predators, not the least of which is the Bobcat. Both of my Ohio Bobcat sightings come from June, and both cats were patrolling country lanes. I suspect they were searching for young rabbits, like the one in these photos.

I made these two images this morning in Hocking County, while photographing birds. The little rabbit - and there was another close by - was oblivious to my presence. In the photo above, he nonchalantly feeds on the leaves of American plantain, Plantago rugelii, right out in the open along a rural lane. Any Red-tailed Hawk - and there are many around there - that happens along will take a keen interest in this rabbit.

Eastern Cottontails are incredibly prolific breeders. A sexually mature female can have five or so litters a year, each of up to eight kits. Some of those kits will be able to breed within their first year. It doesn't take a mathematician to see that we would soon be awash in rabbits if various predators did not take advantage of all the hopping little steaks.


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Friday, June 2, 2017

Showy Lady's-slippers at Cedar Bog

A trio of dazzling Showy Lady's-slipper flowers, as seen from the boardwalk at Cedar Bog in Champaign County, Ohio, this morning.

Fortunately, I made it back from the northern reaches of Michigan in time to get over to Cedar Bog and see Cypripedium reginae, arguably the most spectacular of North American orchids. It is at peak bloom right now, and will look good for another week or so.

Not much notice, I know, but the Friends of Cedar Bog will conduct guided tours to see and learn about these orchids tomorrow and Sunday (June 3 & 4). More information can be found RIGHT HERE.

I highly recommend a visit. Traversing the "bog" (really a fen) is easy, thanks to a mile long boardwalk. While the orchids are currently the star of the show, biodiversity abounds in this magical place, and you'll see much more.

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