Natural History Showcase

The EcoTarium was founded in 1825 as the Worcester Lyceum of Natural History, and is the second oldest Natural History Museum in the United States. Our oldest specimen, a whale’s tooth, was collected that same year. We’ve been adding to our collection ever since, and now have approximately 50,000 specimens.

We have over 300 specimens on permanent display, and hundreds more that are available during special programs. 

Each quarter, we will pull one of the hidden gems from our collection to put on display.

Currently Exhibiting, January – March: The New England Cottontail

The New England Cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis) is a rabbit species native to New England that lives in various habitats across Massachusetts. In the southeastern part of the state, including Cape Cod, the New England Cottontail lives in dense woodlands on sandy soils. In southwestern Massachusetts, the species inhabit young forests and wetlands.

In the early 1900s, a non-native rabbit species, the Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridianus), was introduced to New England. Today, this species is much more common than the New England Cottontail. The two species look alike, but there are a few ways to tell them apart: the New England Cottontail is smaller, has a black spot on its forehead, and has black outlines around its ears. Although the species look similar, they do not breed together.

The Eastern Cottontail uses many of the same resources as the New England Cottontail, which has caused the latter population to begin declining. Forest clearing and urban development have also damaged the New England Cottontail population, which needs dense undergrowth to hide in.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the New England Cottontail as vulnerable. This categorization means the population is decreasing and is at risk of extinction unless circumstances improve; the IUCN estimates that the current population of New England Cottontails is fewer than 17,000.

In 2009, groups across New England and New York began working together to protect the New England Cottontail using methods that include population monitoring, habitat conservation and restoration, landowner outreach, and captive breeding programs.

You can also play a part in helping the vulnerable animals and plants in your community! When people use fewer chemicals in their yards, rabbits can consume the grass and other plants. When more food is available, rabbits can have more offspring to sustain their population. A healthy rabbit population also supports the rest of the local ecosystem. Rabbits become food for other animals, like coyotes and red-tailed hawks, and chemical-free yards and gardens also provide habitats for pollinators like bees and butterflies!

Exhibit is included with admission.

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