You don’t have to live in the country to appreciate nature. Even if you live in a city, you can still see plenty of wildlife just by looking out your window or going for a walk in the park. You may have even seen some rabbits or cottontail rabbits in your neighborhood, perhaps hopping through a backyard on an afternoon stroll, feeding at your bird feeder, or nibbling on grass at the edge of a pond. If not you can read about 4 typical Cottontails here.
What is a Cottontail Rabbit?
Cottontail rabbits, also called wild rabbits, are small mammals native to North America. They are in the same family as rabbits, hares, and pikas, though they vary significantly in appearance and behavior from their better-known cousins. Cottontail rabbits are most easily recognized by their long, fluffy tail and the white patch on their rump.
The rest of their fur is mostly brown, reddish brown and gray, blending in with the trees and shrubs where they live. Cottontail rabbits live alone, except when they mate in the spring. Like other rabbits, they have three pairs of teeth, which grow continually throughout their lives. Cottontail rabbits eat up to 140 different types of species including grass, bark, weeds, shrubs, insect larvae, and other small insects.
The Desert Cottontail
A desert cottontail rabbit is a member of the cottontail genus, Sylvilagus. The species is native to arid grassland habitats and scrubland regions of the Western United States and Mexico. As their name suggests, these small mammals are especially well-adapted to dry and open environments.
Cottontail rabbits have stocky bodies with short, sleek fur in shades of yellowish-brown with white underneath. They have small black eyes, long ears, and a short tail tufted with black and white hairs. The average adult cottontail weighs between one and two pounds, although their weight can fluctuate considerably depending on food availability. Unlike other types of cottontail, the desert variety does not have a white “bib” marking on its chest; instead, its chest is adorned with yellowish fur.
Desert Cottontails Prefer to Stay Out of Sight
Cottontails are constantly on the lookout for predators, and fortunately for them, their short, compact bodies make them very difficult to spot. Cottontails have evolved to stay out of sight by avoiding open spaces, moving along dense vegetation, and staying underground during windy days which would impinge on their best defense, namely, their keen hearing.
Cottontails are most active during the early morning and late afternoon, when they feed and seek shelter. Cottontails are crepuscular, preferring to be most active at dusk and dawn when temperatures are moderate, allowing them to be active when predators are less active.
Cottontails use a variety of communication methods to attract mates, including marking their territory with scent glands, making mating noises, and fighting with other males. While some rabbits are monogamous, cottontails do not form lifelong pairings. Instead, both male and female cottontails will mate with multiple partners each year.
Unlike other desert mammals, cottontails are not particularly sensitive to changes in temperature, which allows them to flourish in arid ecosystems. While other animals struggle to find enough food and water to survive, cottontails have an easier time adapting, allowing them to maintain a strong population in these areas. Cottontails are a common prey species for many desert predators, including coyotes, foxes, and raptors. Humans also hunt cottontails for their meat, making them one of the most commercially harvested game animals in the United States.
The Eastern Cottontail Rabbit
The Eastern Cottontail is a type of rabbit that lives in the eastern parts of North America, Canada, parts of Mexico and even on the Caribbean Island of Isla De Margarita. It is also known as the New England cottontail, eastern cottontail, or swamp rabbit.
The Eastern Cottontail Rabbit can be recognized by its reddish-brown color with white patch above its tail and on its ears. The underside of this mammal will also have a white patch on its tail underside. It weighs between 1 to 2 pounds when fully grown. Eastern cottontails are most active during dusk and dawn, but they can also be seen during the day as well.
They like to feed on grasses and other plant shoots as well as berries and twigs. The Eastern Cottontail is mainly a solitary animal but they gather in small groups in the mating season. They do not dig their own burrows, preferring to borrow burrows of other animals such as woodchucks, though they often make 5 inch deep nests on the surface hidden by grasses. Forrest cover is important for the survival of the species.
Eating Habits of The Eastern Cottontail Rabbit
Eastern Cottontails can feed on a wide variety of green plants and will only eat meat as a last resort. They mainly feed on grasses, clover, dandelions, cacti, sedge plants and other green plants. They also like to feed on berries and twigs. When the weather is very dry, they can also feed on corn and other grains. During the winter, they mainly eat bark and buds from trees, though one study found up to 145 different species of plant making up their diet. Even though they can feed on many different plants, they prefer those that are high in protein and low in fiber.
Reproduction of the Eastern Cottontail Rabbit
Eastern Cottontails mate during the spring and the female can produce up to 6 litters a year. Each litter (called kits) can have up to 8 young ones, but it is not uncommon for her to have only 4. The female will give birth inside a hidden burrow and the babies will start to leave the burrow after only 24 hours. Males often mate with more than one doe during mating season. The young ones are usually independent at the age of 2 months and they will start to mate when they are 6 months old.
Swamp rabbits live in the southeastern US. They are found in Louisiana and eastern Texas, as well as in coastal areas of Mississippi and Alabama. They are also found in parts of Georgia and Florida. Their habitat is wetlands or marshes, so they live in or near water. They are also found in fields, where they eat grasses but don’t live in forests.
What Does A Swamp Rabbit Eat?
Swamp rabbits eat plants, including grasses and aquatic plants. They eat mostly grasses, such as common reed, widgeon grass, and switchgrass. They also eat aquatic plants such as eelgrass, hornwort, and duckweed. They eat other plants as well, including various types of clover. They sometimes eat bark from trees, too. Swamp rabbits are nocturnal, so they forage for food at night. They eat mostly aquatic plants and grasses. They also eat bark. Their diet changes depending on the season, as some plants grow faster or slower than others.
Their tails are long and tufted, which helps Swamp Rabbits swim. Since they live in wetlands, they are at risk for flooding. A few adaptations help them to survive this: they can swim and stay underwater for more than two minutes. They can also jump out of water with their strong hind legs.
Swamp rabbits have low reproductive rates, with females only breeding one or two times per year. This helps them survive when there are floods, as they don’t need to worry about breeding.
The Mountain Cottontail Rabbit
The mountain cottontail is a subspecies of the eastern cottontail. It is a smaller version of this common species, weighing about two-thirds as much as the eastern cottontail. However, the mountain cottontail has longer ears and tail than its cousin. The range of the mountain cottontail rabbit extends from New England to Minnesota and south to Tennessee and Georgia with scattered populations throughout the Appalachian Mountains.
Mountain cottontails are also known as red cottontails or red hill cottontails because they have reddish coats in contrast to their relatives’ grayish coats. Mountain cottontails prefer rocky slopes, pastures, and cliff sides where they can find plenty of cover from predators while remaining close to enough food sources. Mountain Cottontails eat grasses, weeds, bark, leaves, twigs, berries and roots. These diminutive rabbits spend their days searching for food and their nights hiding in burrows or rock crevices.
Defense Strategies of the Mountain Cottontail Rabbit
As a small prey animal, the mountain cottontail rabbit has few defenses against predators but has developed a few methods to protect itself from harm. If a mountain cottontail feels threatened, it will run away from or freeze in place when it senses danger.
If a predator is gaining on a cottontail, the rabbit will make a clicking noise by striking its front claws against its back claws. This sound is meant to warn other cottontails of the danger. When caught, a mountain cottontail rabbit will kick and twist in an attempt to free itself from the predator’s grasp.
Reproduction and Life Cycle of the Mountain Cottontail Rabbit
One to two weeks after mating in the fall, female cottontails will be pregnant. Females will build a nest in a secluded area in the summer with fur and grass and incubate the 6 to 8 (usually 7) babies in the nest during the fall and winter until they are born in late January or early February. The Mountain Cottontail produces up to 5 litters a year. Babies will stay in the nest until they are about half grown, at which point they must leave the nest in order to get enough exercise to build strong muscles.
In Conclusion – About Cottontail Rabbits
Cottontails are a big part of folklore with their fluffy white tails. These animals can turn up in back yards and gardens. Disturbing their nests by accident can be a common occurrence. If you mow over a rabbit nest put it back together, covering it again with grass and twigs. If the babies remain cover the nest in twigs and wait until dusk or dawn to see if the mother disturbs them. If the twigs are moved the mother has returned to look after the young.
- Read more about what to do with cottontails if you find them.
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