Find eastern cottontail information at Animal Diversity Web
0.80 to 1.53 kg
(1.76 to 3.37 lbs)
395 to 477 mm; avg. 430 mm
(15.55 to 18.78 in; avg. 16.93 in)
Eastern cottontails have two different fur coats each year. During the summer they have short brown fur with a white belly. During the winter the fur becomes longer and grayer, with a white belly. All year long the underside of the tail is white. This white tail is the source of their common name. Adult eastern cottontails reach a length of 395 to 477 mm. They also have very large eyes for their size. Females are slightly larger than males.
Eastern cottontails are only native to the Nearctic region. They are found from southern Ontario and Manitoba in Canada to central and northwestern South America. In the United States, they range from the east coast to the Great Plains in the west. They have been introduced into portions of the western United States.
Historically, Eastern cottontails inhabited a variety of habitat types, including deserts, swamps, and forests. They are now most often found in meadows, orchards, farmlands, bushes and areas with low bushes, vines and low deciduous trees.
Does can have 1 to 7 litters in a year, but average 3 to 4.
Breeding occurs from February to September.
1 to 12; avg. 5
25 to 28 days
16 to 22 days
4 to 5 weeks
2 to 3 months
2 to 3 months
Eastern cottontails usually breed from February until September. The exact time of breeding depends on the temperature, food, and light. These rabbits are able to begin breeding at 2 to 3 months old. Females can have anywhere from 1 to 7 litters per year but usually have 3 to 4. Litter size varies from 1 to 12 babies with an average of 5. Females are pregnant for 25 to 28 days before they give birth to their young. The babies are born without fur and blind. The babies usually weigh 25 to 35g at birth. Young open their eyes at 4 to 7 days old. They move out of the nest at 12 to 16 days old. They are independent at 4 to 5 weeks old.
Eastern cottontail females construct a nest in a protected place a few days before giving birth. They care for their young in the nest and nurse them until they are about 16 days old.
3 years (high)
Eastern cottontails are short-lived. Most do not survive beyond their third year.
Eastern cottontails are solitary. They will chase other rabbits our of their home ranges. They are most active during the night but especially in the early morning hours and at dusk. They do not hibernate, so they can be seen during the winter.
Eastern cottontails have excellent vision, hearing, and sense of smell. Eastern cottontails make many sounds. They have cries of worry that are used to startle an enemy and warn others of danger. They grunt if predators approach a nesting female and her litter. They also make squeals during mating.
Eastern cottontails are herbivores. Most of their diet consists of grass. In the summer they also eat wild strawberries, clover, and garden vegetables. In the winter they will eat twigs and bark of trees. In order to get all of the nutrition out of these plants, eastern cottontails will eat their own feces to have a second chance to absorb the nutrients.
Eastern cottontails can escape predators with their fast, jumping form of locomotion. They can run at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour. They will either flush, freeze, or slink to escape danger. Flushing is a fast, zig-zag dash to an area of cover. Slinking is moving low to the ground with the ears laid back to avoid detection. Freezing is simply remaining motionless.
Eastern cottontails cause a great deal of damage in their search for food. They are pests to gardeners and farmers in the summer. In addition, humans may contract the bacterial disease tularemia from handling the dead body of an infected cottontail.
Eastern cottontails are found in many places and are good to eat. Because of this, they are widely hunted. They are hunted for sport, meat, and fur.
Eastern cottontails are common throughout their range.
Kimberly Mikita, University of Michigan
Baker, R.H. 1983. Michigan Mammals. Michigan State University Press, Michigan.
Banfield, A.W.F. 1981. The Mammals of Canada. University of Toronto Press, Canada.
Birney, E.C. and J.K. Jones, Jr. 1988. Handbook of Mammals of the North-Central States. University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota.
Chapman, J.A., J.G. Hockman and M.M. Ojeda. 1980. Sylvilagus floridanus. Mammalian Species no.136. The American Society of Mammalogists.
Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. The University of Michigan Press, Michigan.
Nowak, R.M. and J.L. Paradiso. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. vol 1. 4th ed. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Maryland.