Eastern Cottontail Rabbit
Named for the white, fluffy undersides of their tails, Eastern cottontail rabbits prefer soft, moist vegetation. They are found in both rural and urban areas and are the most common rabbit species in North America.
1. Scientific & Common Names
4. Present Status
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata Class - Mammalia
Order - Lagomorpha
Family - Leporidae
Genus - Sylvilagus
Species - S. floridanus
Common Names - Eastern Cottontail, Cottontail
Eastern cottontail rabbits are around 15 to 18 inches in length and can weigh 2 to 3 pounds. Their fur is often light gray to dark brown, with lighter-colored fur on their undersides. In winter, some rabbits will have fur that is more gray than brown. Cottontail rabbits have a cleft upper lip and long ears.
Cottontail rabbits are prolific breeders. They mate several times a year, and each female may give birth to three or four litters every year. Female Eastern cottontail rabbits give birth to their babies in grass-lined depressions on the ground after a month-long gestation period. Litters are usually of about four or five baby rabbits. In just seven weeks, the baby rabbits are ready to leave the nest and live on their own. Cottontail rabbits are able to breed when they are just 3 months old.
Eastern cottontails are mostly nocturnal animals and are frequently observed in grassy areas right before sunset and in the early morning. They usually live in brushy places that provide plenty of cover for safe hiding. Cottontails usually hop to move around, but if they feel threatened, rabbits will run quickly in a zig-zag pattern toward a hiding place. Rabbits will live in old burrows in very cold weather for protection.
When European settlers arrived on the North American continent, Eastern cottontail rabbits were not as abundant as they are now. The introduction of domestic farming and abundant food sources caused an explosion in cottontail numbers. In some areas, Eastern cottontail rabbit populations are in decline as young forests grow into older, mature wooded areas and as humans develop their natural habitat and suppress natural events such as forest fires and beaver activity.
While Eastern cottontail rabbits are preyed upon by many predators, they are such prolific breeders that their populations are not threatened. In fact, if predators did not eat these animals, their populations would quickly outstrip the available food sources because they reproduce so quickly.