Eastern Cottontails are shy, delicate and very active rabbits that prefer to be left in peace. If you are lucky enough to see one you will be able to observe him for only a short time before he heads back into the underbrush …
Fun Facts about Eastern Cottontail Rabbits
Eastern Cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) are part of the order Lagomorphs. Lagomorphs have four top incisors, whereas rodents have only two. So rabbits are not rodents. There are several species of cottontail rabbits but the eastern cottontail is the most common.
Male rabbits are called bucks and females are called does.
The Eastern Cottontail’s average life span in the wild is up to 3 years. They are 39.5 to 47.7 cm long. Adults weigh 0.8 to 1.5 kg. Females are slightly larger than males.
Cottontails have a keen sense of smell, sight and hearing. They have very large eyes for their size.
Cottontails are crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn) and nocturnal. During the day cottontails often remain hidden in vegetation. They do not hibernate.
Rabbits are generally quiet animals, although they may occasionally emit a few low grunts or high pitched squeals. Their primary form of communication is body language and actions such as stamping their hind feet.
Eastern cottontails have dense coats with black tipped guard hairs. They have two different fur coats each year. During the summer their fur is short brown fur with a white belly. During the winter the fur becomes longer and grayer, still with the white belly. All year long the underside of the tail is white. They have a distinctive ‘cotton ball’ tail which is white underneath..
They have fur, not pads, under their paws. Although the underside of the rear paws of the sleeping rabbit in the photo is a domestic rabbit, it shares the furry feet trait with its wild relatives.
Cottontails are herbivores and consume a wide variety of plants that are seasonally available. Their diet includes grasses, flowers, various green plants, wild strawberries and strawberry leaves (a favourite food!), clover, twigs and buds of trees.
In winter their diet becomes a bit coarse and consists of bark, twigs and buds. Cottontails have a unique digestive system that allows them to get nourishment when only low nutrient foods are available. Unlike squirrels, cottontails do not hide food for the winter.
Cottontails produce cecotropes mostly at night. Rabbits find cecotropes very tasty. As soon as the cecotrope is produced, the rabbit re-ingests it to extract further nutrients.
Home Sweet Home
Cottontails are solitary and will sometimes chase other rabbits out of their home ranges. Females are more territorial than males, particularly during the breeding season.
Cottontails seek out habitat on the fringes of open spaces such as fields, meadows and farms. They can also be found in orchards, as well as in areas with low bushes, vines and low deciduous trees.
They are found in rural to urban settings. In rural settings they may spend their entire lives on just a few acres, while their city relatives may not venture far from a single backyard. Rabbits stick close to familiar surroundings, unless forced to move.
Although they can dig, they don’t dig their own burrows. Cottontails will use underground cavities or the abandoned burrows made by other animals. They will also shelter under brush piles, dense shrubs or buildings.
Wild rabbits hate captivity. Period. They do not have the same personality traits that make domestic rabbits good pets. They can kill themselves by bashing against the cage in a futile attempt to escape, or simply die of fright, or develop fatal gastro-intestinal problems from the stress of being held in captivity.
Very young wild rabbits are soooo cute and it is very tempting to ‘look after’ or ‘rescue’ them. However, unless they are injured, sick or truly abandoned it is best for them if you don’t. If you really want to get close to one, volunteer at your local wildlife center; or, buy a high end Smartphone with an excellent camera zoom capability !
It is also best never to attempt to hand feed or tame any wild rabbit or kit. Lessening their fear of humans spells death for them. It is imperative they fear everything human, including our pets, cars, and us.
Primary escape methods are freezing or flushing (escaping to cover by hopping away in a zigzag pattern). They will also move low to the ground with their ears laid back to avoid detection. This is called slinking.
Cottontails can run at speeds of up to 28 km/hr.
In the winter cottontails are more vulnerable to predators because the grey-brown cottontail does not turn white like their cousin the snowshoe hare.
In addition to predators and the elements, mortal dangers to cottontails include human machinery such as lawnmowers and tractors that often kill rabbits hiding in long grass.
Cottontails can begin mating as early as February and continue throughout the summer until September. Courtship can be quite energetic.
They have an average of 3 to 4 litters a year with up to 9 offspring per litter.
The mother cottontail makes her nest a few days before giving birth. The nest is built on the ground in a burrow, a shallow depression, or within deep grass. She covers her nest with dried grasses and bits of her fur.
When born the babies (called “kits” or “kittens”) are helpless, hairless and their eyes are closed. They weigh 25 to 35 grams at birth.
Kits open their eyes when they are 4 to 7 days old. They are weaned at 2 weeks and are independent at 4 to 5 weeks. Both genders are sexually mature at 2 to 3 months.
We hope you have enjoyed these fun facts about Captivating Eastern Cottontails.
If you have found a kit you think needs help, please check out the sections Does that Rabbit really need Rescuing? and Caring for Abandoned Wild Baby Bunnies. Then please Contact Us.