Eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) belong to the family Leporidae and genus Sylvilagus. This rabbit has a small tail, with a puffy white underside, which resemble a cotton ball. The name 'cottontail' is derived from this feature. These rabbits belong to the Americas and are commonly found in North America.
The fur around the nose, and underside of the tail and belly, is white. Almost all of them have a gray patch around their neck. An average eastern cottontail rabbit can weigh between 2 to 4 pounds. The young ones called 'kits', have an additional white mark on their forehead, which fades with age.
Distribution and Habitat
These rabbits are mostly found in Southern Canada, Eastern Mexico, Central America, northern regions of South America and eastern and south-central United States. They can be commonly seen in New Mexico, Arizona and mid-west North America. Nowadays, these rabbits are found in New England too.
Dietary Habits and Behavior
Eastern cottontail rabbits are herbivores, who love to feed on grass, bark, twigs, fruits, and vegetables. During winters, they feed on the bark of brambles, birch, oak, dogwood, and maple trees, and buds and twigs; whereas their summer and spring diet includes grass, fruits, vegetables, other green vegetation, and clovers.
This ability helps them to protect themselves from predators. Sometimes, they stand on their hind legs to keep an eye out for predators.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
The mating season of these rabbits is from February to September. It is observed that, they perform a mating dance. The female builds a nest in the ground, using grass and fur. The gestation period is around a month, and the female gives birth to a maximum of nine kits.
The females may mate again, soon after giving birth, and can breed four to five times a year. They feed the young ones twice a day, for a period of three months. The kits leave the nest after seven weeks, and reach maturity after three to four months.
They are proficient breeders, and can produce many offspring. They are preyed upon by hawks, barn owls, opossums, coyotes, foxes, weasels, and many other animals. Humans also hunt them for their fur and meat.
They are also trapped and killed for damaging farms and gardens. They have a varying population, depending on various habitats. Any disturbance or loss of habitat, may adversely affect the population of these beautiful creatures.