Pygmy Rabbit

This Extinct Species Might Actually Be Resurrected!

The Pygmy Rabbit Information

The pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis) is a North American rabbit, and is one of only two rabbit species in America to dig its own burrow. The pygmy rabbit differs significantly from species within either the Lepus (hare) or Syvilagus (cottontail) genera and is generally considered to be within the monotypic genus Brachylagus. One isolated population, the Columbian Basin pygmy rabbit, is listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Federal government, though the Internation Union for Conservation of Nature lists the species as lower risk.

The Hopeful Revival

The last male purebred Columbian Basin pygmy rabbit, found only in the Columbian Basin of Washington state, died March 30, 2006, at the Oregon Zoo in Portland. The last purebred female died in 2008. A crossbreeding program conducted by the Oregon Zoo, Washington State University and Northwest Trek is attempting to preserve the genetic line by breeding surviving females with the Idaho Pygmy Rabbit.

The Pygmy Rabbit's Living Region

The range of the pygmy rabbit includes most of the Great Basin and some of the adjacent intermountain areas of the western United States. Pygmy rabbits are found in southwestern Montana from the extreme southwest corner near the Idaho border north to Dillon and Bannack in Beaverhead County. Distribution continues east to southern Idaho and southern Oregon and south to northern Utah, northern Nevada, and eastern California. Isolated populations occur in east-central Washington and Wyoming.

Lifespan and Threats

The Pygmy Rabbit breeding season is short compared to other rabbits. Young are raised in nests inside burrows. Pygmy rabbits appear to synchronize breeding in a given area. Breeding time is determined by female readiness, which seems to be influenced by photoperiod and the condition of local food plants. Average litter size is 6. There is a maximum of three litters in a breeding season. Pygmy rabbits are capable of reproduction in the year following their birth.

The lifespan of a Pygmy rabbit runs about 3-5 years. Pygmy rabbit lifespan is primarily limited by predation. Annual rate of adult mortality may be as high as 88%. Juvenile mortality can be 50% between birth and 5 weeks old. Beside thier natural predators they also face habitat loss and fragmentation caused by: conversion of sagebrush rangeland to agriculture, development, including oil and gas production; and wildfire frequency in some areas.