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eastern cottontail

Sylvilagus floridanus

What do they look like?

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.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    0.8 to 1.53 kg
    1.76 to 3.37 lb
  • Range length
    395.0 to 477.0 mm
    15.55 to 18.78 in
  • Average length
    430.0 mm
    16.93 in

Where do they live?

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.

What kind of habitat do they need?

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.

How do they reproduce?

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.

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Does can have 1 to 7 litters in a year, but average 3 to 4.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from February to September.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 12
  • Average number of offspring
    5
  • Average number of offspring
    5
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    25 to 28 days
  • Range weaning age
    16 to 22 days
  • Range time to independence
    4 to 5 weeks
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 to 3 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 to 3 months

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.

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female

How long do they live?

Eastern cottontails are short-lived. Most do not survive beyond their third year.

How do they behave?

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.

How do they communicate with each other?

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.

What do they eat?

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.

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

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.

Do they cause problems?

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.

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease
  • crop pest

How do they interact with us?

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.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Are they endangered?

Eastern cottontails are common throughout their range.

Contributors

Kimberly Mikita (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

References

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.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Mikita, K. 1999. "Sylvilagus floridanus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 22, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Sylvilagus_floridanus/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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