The Volcano rabbit is a small endangered rabbit that lives in the mountains of Mexico. It is the world's second-smallest rabbit, second only to the pygmy rabbit. It has small rounded ears, short legs, and short, thick fur that ranges in color from brown to black.
Volcano rabbits are found only in Mexico. They are specifically native to four volcanoes just south and east of Mexico City, the largest of these volcanic regions is within the Izta-Popo National Park, other areas include the Chichinautzin and Pelado volcanos. Volcano rabbits are usually found at higher altitudes and occur in open pine forests, open pine woodland, and mixed alder pine forest, and grasslands. They are more abundant near tall, dense herbs and thick vegetation.
Volcano rabbits are social animals. They live in groups of 2 to 5 individuals in underground burrows that can be as long as 5 m and as deep as 40 cm. They also create runways among grass tussocks to navigate their habitat. The rabbits not only feed on these tall grasses but also use these plants as cover to hide from predators. Volcano rabbits are crepuscular and are highly active during twilight, dawn, and all times in between. In order to warn other rabbits of danger, they emit very high-pitched sounds instead of thumping their feet on the ground.
Volcano rabbits are herbivores (graminivores) and feed primarily on grasses which are abundant during wet seasons. During the dry season, they typically feed on shrubs and small trees, as well as other woody plants. Their diet also includes leaves, foliage, and flowers.
Volcano rabbits breed throughout the year but the peak usually occurs between March and early July. After a gestation period of 38-42 days, the female gives birth to 2-3 young per litter. Baby rabbits are born blind but covered in fur. They remain in the burrow for about 3 weeks and become reproductively mature at 4 months old.
The main threats to the Volcano rabbit include logging, harvesting of grasses, livestock grazing, habitat destruction, urban expansion, highway construction, and too frequent forest fires. More recent threats include unsound management policies of its habitat in National Parks and outside, mainly by afforestation (planting trees in grasslands where they do not belong). These threats have resulted in a loss of 15-20% of the Volcano rabbit’s habitat during the last three generations. Hunting is another serious threat, despite the fact that it is illegal to hunt Volcano rabbits under Mexican law.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Volcano rabbit is 7,085 individuals. These include 1,811 individuals in Pelado, 1,816 individuals in Tlaloc, 3,458 individuals in Izta-Popo, and approximately 3,056 individuals for the surrounding areas. Currently, this species is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.