Found in the Great Basin and some adjacent intermountain areas between about 4,000 and 7,000 feet, pygmy rabbits (Brachylagus idahoensis) usually remain in dense cover, rarely venturing out into the open. Therefore Leonard and I were surprised to see one sitting in our yard (near Lookout CA Modoc County) a couple weeks ago. This little lagomorph, which seemed barely larger than a softball, gladly posed for a few pictures before hopping off into the deeper pasture grass.
The smallest of North American rabbits, pygmy rabbits are fulvous (tawny or tan) across the chest and legs. The dorsal side is “peppery” -grey mixed with black fur. The grey tail has brownish-tipped hairs and is grey below. Its short ears are covered with fine, silky hairs both inside and out. The vibrissae (snout hairs) are black and there is a small white spot on either side of the pygmy rabbit’s nostrils. Females are slightly larger than males.
Pygmy rabbits require dense clumps of sagebrush or rabbit brush to provide cover and soft earth for digging burrows. Pygmy rabbits are one of two North American rabbits that dig their own burrows. The burrow is about three inches in diameter, consists of interconnecting runs and chambers and has several entrances. A trough in which the pygmy rabbit can rest is often dug in front of the entrance. During the winter when snow covers the ground, the rabbit tunnels beneath the snow.
Sagebrush is the main food of pygmy rabbits and they also eat grasses and some forbs. They are mostly active at night and feed primarily during the early evening and early morning.
Sexually mature at about a year, pygmy rabbits breed in the spring and early summer producing two, occasionally three, litters a year. The babies, up to six in a litter, are viviparous and dependent on the parents at birth.
Pygmy rabbits were originally placed in the Sylvilagus genus with cottontails. Recent DNA studies have prompted taxonomists to relocate pygmy rabbits in the monotypic genus Brachylagus.
What a delight it was to have this little visitor in our yard.