Eastern Cottontail Rabbit Facts | Anatomy, Diet, Habitat, Behavior

The eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) is arguably one of the most familiar mammals in the natural habitats as well as in captivity. It makes home in open grassy habitats including shrubby cover. The eastern cottontail is found throughout the United States, northernmost South America, to as far as southern Canada.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit Facts

Anatomy

  • Adult cottontail averages 35.5 – 48.5 cm in the overall length. The mean weight is 2 – 3 pounds.
  • They are mainly recognized by dark gray or light brown in color.
  • They have long prominent ears that are set just above the head. Cottontail’s ears average 4.9 – 7.6 cm in length.
  • Eastern cottontails average 800 to 2,000 g (1.8 to 4.4 lb) in weight.
  • Females are more likely to be heavier than males.
  • It earns its name because of its fluffy short tail. The tail is 2.5 – 7.6 cm long.
  • The eastern cottontail pair is known to produce as many as 350,000 babies in a period of just 5 years. The mortality rate is almost zero.
eastern cottontail rabbit facts
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Geographic Range

  • Eastern cottontail rabbits occupy the shrubby areas of south-central United States, eastern Mexico, southern Canada, northernmost South America, eastern United States, and Central America.
  • Cottontails are found in large numbers in Arizona and New Mexico. They also occur in the Midwest North America.
  • It has also been introduced in New England, British Colombia, and Oregon.

Habitat

  • Eastern cottontails are likely to survive in habitats that provide shrubby cover and thorny cover. Cottontail’s habitats include swamps, hedgerows, forests, farmland, glades, prairies, wooded thickets, deserts, and are open like grassy fields.

Behavior

  • They are mostly active at sunrise and sunset. They spend daylight hours in shades.
  • During mid-day cottontails search shelters especially those that provide them brush pile cover or thick clump of grass. Sometimes they dig underground burrows not only to avoid predators but also to thwart harsh winter weather.
  • Predators of cottontail include hawks, cats, snakes, foxes, owls, raccoons, weasels, mink, great horned owl, bobcat, barred owl, domestic dogs, corvids, Virginia opossum, red-tailed hawk, northern goshawk, skunks, badger, short-eared owl, and coyotes. It can dash away suddenly on seeing a predator but mostly cottontails remain hidden underground.
  • Eastern cottontails are typically aggressive species but they will avoid fight inasmuch as possible.
  • Adult females have a home range of about 0.2 to 16.2 hectares (0.5 to 40 acres) while adult males have got 3 hectares (6.9 acres) of territory.
  • Eastern cottontails can run as fast as 29 km/h (18 mph).
  • They remain active all year-round. Cottontails move only short distances.
  • Cottontails run in a zigzag manner.

Feeding Ecology & Diet

  • Eastern cottontails rely on many different plant species. During summer cottontails eat clover, weeds, and grasses. In the cold days of winter they consume woody material including buds of trees, barks, shrubs, twigs, sedge fruits, rush seeds, and stems.
  • Studies show that cottontails consume as many as 145 different plants species.
  • They seem to like stems or branches that are 0.64 cm (0.25 in) long.
  • Eastern cottontail’s diet consists of crabgrasses, Canada bluegrass, ragweed, quackgrass, dandelion, wild strawberries, clover, wild rye, redtop, plantains, alfalfa, and timothy.
eastern cottontail rabbit facts
Eastern cottontails never hibernate even in harsh winter weather

Reproductive Biology

  • Depending on the location and habitat, the mating season varies but it usually takes place in January and September.
  • The female builds nest in a hole and gives it a cover using leaves and grasses. She gives birth to 7 babies at one time.
  • The nests are 18 cm (7.09 in) long with the width averaging 12 cm (4.9 in). It is 12 cm (4.71 in) deep.
  • The gestation period lasts 25 – 35 days.
  • Young cottontails are born blind with no ears either. They have got fine layer of fur on their bodies.
  • Young rabbits open their eyes 4 – 5 days after birth. They will leave the nest when they become 14 days old. However young rabbits may visit the nest again in the next few days.
  • Young will become completely independent in about 28 – 35 days.
  • Both parents reach maturity at the age of 2 – 3 months.
  • Males are known to mate with multiple females.
  • Most cottontails live up to 2 years in the wild. The maximum lifespan is 5 years in the wild.

Conservation Status

Least Concern

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