BEHAVIOUR

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Description

The cottontail rabbit is a medium-sized rabbit that has long ears, large hind legs, shorter front legs, a brief fluffy tail and soft fur. 

The upperparts can vary from reddish to greyish brown sprinkled with some black; when fluffed, the fur of the rump is grayish. The rear of the neck is bright rust-colored. 

The underparts are grayish-white apart from a brownish chest; the tops of the hind feet are tan to whitish. Similar species: the sole other rabbits in Missouri are the swamp rabbit and black-tailed jackrabbit. 

Of the two, swamp rabbits are the most kind of like cottontails, but swamp rabbits are generally larger, with relatively shorter and rounder ears, somewhat coarser fur with a yellowish cast, particularly within the rump, and more black mottling.

The tops of the hind feet are reddish-brown, and therefore the back of the neck is merely slightly rust-colored.

Swamp rabbits occur only in southeast Missouri and are an imperiled species in our state. Black-tailed jackrabbits look very different from cottontails.

Formerly scattered in southwestern Missouri, the are now endangered within our state and should be extirpated.

Another species, the whitetail jackrabbit, wont to occur in northwest Missouri but was declared extirpated from our state in 1990.

Habitat

The wood rabbit habitat consists of open grassy areas, clearings, and old fields supporting abundant green grasses and herbs, with shrubs within the area or edges for canopy.

The most important components of cottontail habitat are an abundance of well-distributed escape cover (dense shrubs) interspersed with more open foraging areas like grasslands and pastures.

Habitat parameters are extremely important for eastern cottontails in Pinus ponderosa, mixed species, and pinyon-juniper woodlands include woody debris, herbaceous and shrubby understories, and patchiness. 

Typically eastern cottontails live around farms that have fields, pastures, open woods, thickets related to fencerows, wooded thickets, forest edges, and suburban areas with adequate food and canopy.

They’re also found in swamps and marshes and typically avoid dense woods. they’re seldom found in deep woods.

Diet

The diet of eastern cottontails is varied and largely keen about availability. Eastern cottontails rabbits eat almost exclusively vegetation; 

Some studies show that are as many as 70 to 145 plant species in their local diets. Their diet consists of bark, twigs, leaves, fruit, buds, flowers, grass seeds, sedge fruits, and rush seeds.

There’s a preference for tiny material: branches, twigs, and stems up to 0.64 cm. Leporids including eastern cottontails are coprophagous, producing two varieties of fecal pellets, one in all which is consumed. 

The redigestion of pellets increases the nutritional value of dietary items very much.

In summer, eastern cottontails consume tender green herbaceous vegetation when it’s available. In many areas, Kentucky blue and Canada bluegrass are important dietary components.

Other favored species include clovers and crabgrasses.

In Connecticut, the most important summer foods are: clovers, alfalfa, timothy, bluegrasses, quackgrass, crabgrasses, redtop, ragweed, goldenrods, plantains, chickweed, and dandelion. 

During the dormant season, or when green vegetation is roofed with snow, eastern cottontails consume twigs, buds, and bark of woody vegetation.

In Connecticut, important winter foods include birch and red maple.

Reproduction

The start of breeding depends on populations and within populations from year to year. The Sylvilagus floridanus breeding season begins later with higher latitudes and elevations. 

The temperature has been classified as a primary factor that controls the onset of breeding; many studies correlate severe weather with delays within the onset of breeding.

In New England breeding starts from March to September. In New York, the breeding season begins from  February to September, in Connecticut from mid-March to mid-September.

The nest might be a slanting hole dug in soft soil and lined with vegetation and white fur from the mother’s underside.

The most common measurements are: length 18 cm, width 12 cm, and depth 12 cm.

The typical period of gestation is 28 days, starting from 25 to 35 days.

Young cottontail rabbits are born with a really fine coat of hair and are blind. Their eyes start to open by four to seven days. 

Young begin to maneuver out of the nest for brief trips by 12 to 16 days and are completely weaned and independent by four to 5 weeks.

Litters disperse at about seven weeks. Females don’t stay within the nest with the young but return to the opening of the nest to nurse, usually twice each day.

Reproductive maturity occurs at about two to 3 months old.

A majority of females rabbits breeds for the first time in the spring following birth; but 10% to 36% of females start to breed as young rabbits (i.e., summer of the year they were born). Males will mate with over one female.

Female rabbits can have one to seven litters of 1 to 12 young, called kits, in an exceedingly year; however, they average three to four litters p.a., and therefore the average number of kits is five.

In the South, female eastern cottontails have more litters annually (up to seven) but fewer young per litter.

In a geographic area, female eastern cottontails have three or four litters each year. The annual productivity of females is also as high as 35 young.

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