Eastern Cottontail Rabbit
Species: Sylvilagus floridanus
Common Names: rabbit, cottontail rabbit
Although they have a very docile and friendly appearance, these bunnies are actually very territorial and generally stay within about a 10 acre range. Unlike rabbits found in Europe, these cottontails live fairly solitary lives, do not dig burrows, nor do they live in warrens. They spend their days hiding in tall grass, brush, or sometimes resting in the burrows dug by other animals.
During the evening and early morning, these herbivores feed on grasses, clover, wild herbs, and other nutritious vegetation. As did Mr. McGregor, in Beatrix Potter’s famous story of Peter Rabbit, you may have to chase these rabbits out of your vegetable garden. During the winter, rabbits will also feed on twigs and bark. An interesting fact about rabbits is, being coprophagous, they will ingest one type of their waste pellets, nutrient-dense cecotropes, for increased nutritional benefits.
Easter Cottontail Rabbits are prey to many predators, including foxes, coyotes, ferrets, weasels, hawks, owls, bobcats, raccoons, and even cats and dogs. Rabbits are also vulnerable to snakes that often lurk in gardens and other areas of the rabbit's habitat. A cottontail protects itself with heightened senses that allow early warning of predators, swift reflexes, evasive maneuvers, speed, and the ability to effectively camouflage and hide.
These rabbits are known for their prolific breeding habits and produce several litters each year. Litters can be one to upwards of twelve offspring, called kits. Mother rabbits, does, dig a nest hole that is about 5 inches by 7 inches and line it with grasses and fur. The gestation period is only 25-30 days, and the baby bunnies are born mostly bald, blind and quite helpless. They grow fur, open their eyes, and become relatively independent within about five weeks.
The eastern rottontail rabbit, a species of North American rabbit, is native to much of the eastern and central United States, as well as parts of Canada and Mexico. This small mammal has a wide range of habitats, from open fields and meadows to marshes and brushy areas. They prefer open spaces with some available cover and tend to avoid densely wooded areas.
The eastern cottontail rabbit is typically about 16 to 20 inches in length. They are generally brownish-gray with a white underside and an easily recognized fuzzy white cotton ball-like tail. One of its other most recognizable features is its long, pointed ears. They have powerful hind legs to help them move quickly to evade predators.
These rabbits have always been a popular game animal and were used as a food source by both Native Americans and early settlers. The eastern cottontail rabbit is a hardy animal and can survive in a wide range of habitats from grasslands to more urban areas, making them one of the most abundant and widespread small mammals in North America. Rabbits have a long history of appearing in stories, folklore, symbolism, and art throughout the world. You can celebrate rabbits on the last week of June for Rabbit Awareness Week or September 23 each year on International Rabbit Day.