Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pygmies of the Great Basin

Volcanic dust swirled off our tires as I followed my local guides to the colony.

We stopped.

"This is the place."

A knee-high sea of sagebrush scrub flowed to the mountains in all directions. Its aroma as pervasive and captivating as the eye-soothing gray-green mosaic.

sage steppe

And if my guides were correct, we were currently surrounded.

Maybe even being watched.

By pygmies.

We spread out, and quickly found signs of their presence.

The tell-tale well-worn roads and runways.

pygmy rabbit runs and burrows

The hidden entrances to their underground lairs.

pygmy rabbit burrow

And even their tiny BB-size scats.

pygmy rabbit pellets

Choosing 2 locations, I carefully and cautiously set my cam traps.

Because these pygmies are well-known to be dangerous.

Dangerously cute, that is.

As you can see from our first photo results.

Total face-melters.

pygmy rabbit
Pygmy Rabbit, Brachylagus idahoensis - the smallest rabbit in North America. About 75% the size of the Brush Rabbit, Sylvilagus bachmani, they're 10-12" long (~270mm), and a little under a pound in weight (~400 grams).

pygmy rabbit
Along with their diminuative size, their shorter furry ears, shorter furry rear feet, peppery pelage and lack of white cottontail are also distinguishing characteristics.

pygmy rabbit

pygmy rabbit
Plus, pygmy rabbits are one of only 2 burrowing bunnies in North America - the other being the endangered Volcano Rabbit, Romerolagus diazi, that lives on just a handful of volcanoes to the south of Mexico City.

pygmy rabbits
I like how they use sagebrush/rabbitbrush canopies for settin' porches. The near rabbit's burrow is behind it in the sage, and the further bunny's burrow is just in front of it.

pygmy rabbits

pygmy rabbits

pygmy rabbits
The pygmy in the back is totally thinking "show off!"

pygmy rabbit

pygmy rabbits
A specialist of the sagebrush steppe, pygmy rabbits are currently a Species of Special Concern in California, and have been petitioned and considered for Federal Endangered Species status. But, to-date, only a disjunct population in Washington has received ESA protection. Why the worry? Fragmentation and fire. Their need for sagebrush (food) and certain soils (burrowing) make them extremely susceptible to population isolation and extinction. Because, when big sage burns it doesn't stump-sprout - it dies outright.

pygmy rabbit
A benefit of shorter rear feet - pygmies can tip-toe around.

juvenile pygmy rabbit
And, as if they couldn't get any cuter… juvenile pygmy rabbits!

juvenile pygmy rabbit

Huge thanks to my local guides. Really looking forward to seeing what the bunnies have in store for us in the future.

I'm betting each episode will have a healthy dose of cute.