Poelagus marjoritaBunyoro rabbit

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Geographic Range

Poelagus marjorita is an exclusively African species with major populations concentrated in southern Uganda. In addition, P. marjorita has a distribution as far west as Angola and as far east as Sudan. Other scattered populations of Uganda grass-hares are found directly north of Lake Victoria along the Uganda river basin. (Kingdon, 1974; "African Mammals Databank: Poelagus marjorita ", 1997)

Habitat

Grasslands and low scrublands are the preferred habitat of grass-hares. The region in which P. marjorita lives has a variable climate, where there are both rainy and an extended dry seasons each year. Tall grasses thrive during the rainy season but are not abundant during the dry. This cyclic variance in grassland production directly effects P. marjorita because tall grasses are what this species depends upon for both sustenance and concealment from its predators. The Ugandan region is dominated by savanna-like grasslands and scattered undergrowth. The soil is rocky with fissures and crags in the ground. This environment is similar to others within the Great Rift Valley. Due to the arid conditions of the region, the habitat of P. marjorita is subject to annual to bi-annual brush fires. (Kingdon, 1974; United Nations Environment Program, 1984)

  • Range elevation
    760 to 1300 m
    2493.44 to 4265.09 ft
  • Average elevation
    1000 m
    3280.84 ft

Physical Description

Uganda grass-hares physically resemble domestic rabbits, which is reflected in its colloquial name, Bunyoro rabbit. This species has relatively short ears and truncated limbs when compared to other Leporidae. These animals weigh between 2 and 3 kg. The hind-foot measures 90 to 100 mm; the tail, 45 to 50 mm; and the ears only 60 to 65 mm. P. marjorita has a grayish brown surface pelage, with a cotton-white coloration on the underside. (Vaughan, et al., 2000; Kingdon, 1974; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

The genitals of male and female P. marjorita are identical in appearance due to identical sac-like glands found just behind the testes and rounded tufts of hair that cover male scrota and occur in the same place in females. When the penis is retracted, males and females are difficult to distinguish. (Kingdon, 1974)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    2 to 3 kg
    4.41 to 6.61 lb
  • Range length
    440 to 500 mm
    17.32 to 19.69 in
  • Average length
    475 mm
    18.70 in

Reproduction

Mating in this species appears to be polygynandrous, with both males and females taking multiple mates. P. marjorita is an induced ovulator and will become sexually active after weaning the last of her current litter. (Kingdon, 1974; "African Mammals Databank: Poelagus marjorita ", 1997)

Male grass-hares mate with many different females from within their territory. In addition, they will aggressively chase away other males in the area, and will chase down females when they chemically communicate their sexual availability. Females will allow multiple males to mate with her if they are successful in chasing her down. (Kingdon, 1974)

P. marjorita breeds throughout the year. Females are induced to ovulate through the act of copulation. The gestation period is from 4 to 6 weeks, with one or two offspring produced per litter. These young are weaned between 3 and 6 weeks of age, and become independent at about the time of weaning. Sexual maturity is reached around the age of 3 months in both sexes. (Kingdon, 1974)

  • Breeding interval
    Bunyoro rabbits breed all year round.
  • Breeding season
    There is no specific timeframe associated with sexual activity in this species.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 4
  • Average number of offspring
    2
  • Range gestation period
    28 to 42 days
  • Range weaning age
    21 to 42 days
  • Average weaning age
    35 days
  • Range time to independence
    3 to 6 weeks
  • Average time to independence
    5 weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 4 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 to 4 months

After mating, the female constructs a nest under thick undergrowth or in a cave or crag which is then lined with fur and grass. Males contribute no care or protection to the young. Gestation takes about five weeks, and after that period of time, one to two highly altricial young are born. Most Leporidae give birth to highly developed offspring which can run minutes after birth, but P. marjorita is an exception. P. marjorita are blind, hairless and immobile at birth. The young are nursed for nearly five weeks and it is common for the female to become pregnant again before the young are weaned. Female P. marjorita will allow the older young to accompany them when they forage at night. The female does not guard her progeny, but will return from foraging to clean the litter and nurse the young. (Kingdon, 1974; Vaughan, et al., 2000)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Wild grass-hares commonly live up to four years in the wild, although it is unlikely to find older individuals due to predation. The average mortality for P. marjorita occurs before or at the age three and a half years, although individuals in captivity have lived to be up to twelve years of age. (Kingdon, 1974)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 to 7 years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    4 to 12 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    10 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 to 7 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    6 to 10 years

Behavior

Little is known about the behavior of these animals. They are nocturnal or crepuscular. Like other members of the family Leporidae, these animals live on the ground and are specialized for hopping. Males are aggressive and territorial. (Kingdon, 1974)

  • Range territory size
    10 to 20 m^2

Home Range

P. marjorita generally will have a home range of ten to twenty square meters, depending on the availability of food and nesting ground

Communication and Perception

Like other Lagomorphs, scent marking and touch are important intra-specific means of communication. P. marjoita is known to flash the white of its tail to indicate a threat to other members of its species. Vocalizations have not been reported for these animals. (Kingdon, 1974)

Food Habits

This species subsists on short grasses, shrubs, forbs and tubers. P. marjorita will consume flowering buds, growing shoots and is known to re-ingest its own feces to extract additional nutrients from them. (Kingdon, 1974)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • flowers

Predation

P. marjorita is an important prey species for many Ugandan raptors, including owls, hawks and eagles. Genetta tigrina and Genetta servalina are two of the most common predators of grass-hares, although baboons and cats are known to consume them as well. (Kingdon, 1974)

Ecosystem Roles

Uganda grass-hares, as browsers and grazers, are much like miniature-ungulates. Because populations are reasonably high in the Uganda area, they serve as an important prey species for cursorial and aviary predators. (Kingdon, 1974)

An unlikely association that P. marjorita has formed is a close dependance on buffalo. Buffalo are heavy browsers and tend to convert tall grassland into lower grazing meadows. It is in this habitat that P. marjorita is best suited and small groups of these hares can be seen browsing besides these large bovids. (Kingdon, 1974)

Mutualist Species
  • Hyracoidea
  • Bovidae

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

These animals are not known to be of any economic importance to humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

These hares have not been reported to affect human economies adversely.

Conservation Status

Kingdon speculates that with increasing human agricultural expansion in the Uganda region, the grasslands and scrub-lands on which P. marjorita depends will soon disappear. Encroaching human populations will endow an invariably negative effect on the hare populations. There is no record of this species on the IUCN,CITES, or US Federal concervation websites. (Kingdon, 1974)

Contributors

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Charles Portman (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

aposematic

having coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chaparral

Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

coprophage

an animal that mainly eats the dung of other animals

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

induced ovulation

ovulation is stimulated by the act of copulation (does not occur spontaneously)

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

keystone species

a species whose presence or absence strongly affects populations of other species in that area such that the extirpation of the keystone species in an area will result in the ultimate extirpation of many more species in that area (Example: sea otter).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

pheromones

chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

polygynandrous

the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

saltatorial

specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

vibrations

movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

1997. "African Mammals Databank: Poelagus marjorita " (On-line). The Geographic Information Systems Laboratory, La Sapienza Univsersita degli studi di Roma. Accessed March 01, 2004 at http://www.gisbau.uniroma1.it/amd/amd228b.html.

Kingdon, J. 1974. East African Mammals: an atlas of evolution in Africa. Volume III part 13 (Hares and Rodents). New York: Academic Press.

Nowak, R. 1997. "Walker's Mammals of the World Online" (On-line). Central African Rabbit. Accessed March 01, 2004 at http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world/lagomorpha/lagomorpha.leporidae.poelagus.html.

United Nations Environment Program, 1984. "UNEP WCMC Biome Classification" (On-line). Bamingui-Bangoran Conservation Area. Accessed March 01, 2004 at http://www.unep-wcmc.org/sites/pa/0136p.htm.

Vaughan, T., J. Ryan, N. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy: Fourth Edition. New York: Brooks/Cole, Thomson Learning.