by Barbara Walvoord
Last week’s column featured two of our pregnant Lathrop predators–the coyote and the bobcat. The column ended by asking, “What are all these hungry predators and their babies going to eat?
Well, one of their favorite foods is — Rabbit!
Talk about pregnant. Our rabbit moms–whom we ALL see in our lawns and gardens–will give birth 3 or 4 times this year, each time to 3-8 babies. The babies are sexually mature in only 2-3 months. This could be a math challenge for the students that Cranberry Lane resident Roger Herman tutors at the Williston School. Rabbit populations, notes one source, “are able to grow with staggering speed.”
Except, of course, that all our bobcat and coyote babies, and their moms and dads, will be eating rabbits. Without these predators, we could look like the Australian outback with every green shoot eaten, and, for population statistics, we would have to call in Huckleberry Lane resident Roger Howe’s math students at Yale. With average predators, however, only 15% of baby rabbits survive their first year. Aha! You students–multiply by decimals.
So Mama Rabbit, how do you protect your babies?
The mother rabbit usually feeds her babies under cover of darkness in early morning or evening, when a predator cannot easily “see” the mother returning to her nest. She feeds two to three times within 12-hour timeframes. The babies flip over onto their backs and nurse upside-down. The mother stands over them, ready to flee the nest at the first hint of a predator. Her milk is so rich that it takes only a minute or so for the babies’ stomachs to fill and for the feeding to be complete.
After 3-4 weeks the babies leave the nest. By then, they know by instinct how to camouflage themselves, what foods to eat, and what a predator is. They automatically know to run away from a predator in a “broken path” pattern, thus making it hard for a predator to catch them, or to freeze in the “you can’t see me” position.
Never mind the math–our walks around Lathrop tell us that lots of rabbits are surviving. Our occasional sightings tell us, too, that our bobcats are alive and eating well. Midnight howls tell us our coyote family is out hunting. We maintain our healthy ecosystem by nurturing native plants and reducing our use of pesticides and herbicides.