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The Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) is a New World cottontail rabbit, a member of the family Leporidae. It is one of the most common rabbit species in North America.

Description

The Eastern Cottontail is chunky red-brown or gray-brown in appearance with large hind feet, long ears and a short fluffy white tail. Its underside fur is white. There is a rusty patch on the tail.



Its appearance differs from that of a hare in that it has a brownish-gray coloring around the head and neck. The body is lighter color with a white underside on the tail. It has large brown eyes and large ears to see and listen for danger. In winter the cottontail's pelage is more gray than brown. The kittens develop the same coloring after a few weeks, but they also have a white blaze that goes down their forehead; this marking eventually disappears. The average adult weighs about 2-4 pounds; however the female tends to be heavier.

Range

The Eastern Cottontail can be found in meadows and shrubby areas in the eastern and south-central United Statesmarker, southern Canadamarker, eastern Mexicomarker, Central America and northernmost South America. It is abundant in Midwest North America, and has been found in New Mexico and Arizona. Its range expanded north as forests were cleared by settlers. Originally, it was not found in New Englandmarker, but it has been introduced there and now competes for habitat there with the native New England Cottontail.

Diet

The Eastern Cottontail's diet includes grasses, fruits, and vegetables in the spring and summer, and twigs, bark, dogwoods and maple trees in the winter. This animal is active at night, and it does not hibernate in winter. People also hunt it for food in many parts of its range, and its fur is also used for clothing.

On farms and in gardens, the Eastern Cottontail is usually considered a pest and is often trapped or shot to protect plants.

Reproduction

Mating occurs from February to September. Males will mate with more than one female. Female rabbits can have 1 to 7 litters of 1 to 12 young, called kits, in a year; however, the average number of litters per year is 3 - 4 and the average number of kits is 5. The female builds a nest in the ground lined with grass and fur. After the female has given birth to her offspring, she can mate again immediately thereafter. The kits are weaned after 3 weeks and leave the nest after seven weeks. The kits then reach mating age after three months.

Enemies

Hunting and predation prevent the rabbit population from growing out of control. Only about 20-25% of young rabbits remain alive within a year after birth and 85% of adults or young are killed every year by predators (including humans) . Regular predators include hawk (especially red-tailed hawks), eagles, owls (especially great horned owls), red foxes, coyotes, bobcats, canadian lynxes and weasels

Behavior

The Eastern Cottontail is a very territorial animal. It is nocturnal and is also active during early dawn and late dusk. When running, it can jump from 15 feet, which can aid in avoiding predators . When chased, it runs in a zigzag pattern so the animal chasing it will lose its scent and so the rabbit is harder to follow. It can run up to 18 miles per hour. The cottontail prefers an area where it can hide quickly but be out in the open. Forests, swamps, thickets, bushes or open areas where it can dig a burrow are optimal habitation sites for this species.

Image:1010101.jpg|Litter of 8 young, with nesting material on the left.Image:Eastern cotton tail in grass.jpg|An Eastern Cottontail sitting in grass.Image:Eastern cotton tail sitting.jpg|Sitting in an under-construction nest.Image:OurPets3.gif|1 week old kitImage:ecottontail.jpg|Juvenile Eastern Cottontail.



Classification

Recognized subspecies of Sylvilagus floridanus

  • North of Mexico
    • Sylvilagus floridanus alacer
    • Sylvilagus floridanus holzneri
    • Sylvilagus floridanus chapmani
    • Sylvilagus floridanus floridanus
    • Sylvilagus floridanus mallurus


  • Mexico and Central America
    • Sylvilagus floridanus aztecus
    • Sylvilagus floridanus connectens
    • Sylvilagus floridanus hondurensis
    • Sylvilagus floridanus macrocorpus
    • Sylvilagus floridanus orizabae
    • Sylvilagus floridanus yucatanicus


  • South of Isthmus of Panama
    • Sylvilagus floridanus avius
    • Sylvilagus floridanus cumanicus
    • Sylvilagus floridanus margaritae
    • Sylvilagus floridanus nigronuchalis
    • Sylvilagus floridanus orinoci
    • Sylvilagus floridanus purgatus
    • Sylvilagus floridanus superciliaris


References

  1. Elder, William H.; Lyle K. Sowls. (June, 1942) Body Weight and Sex Ratio of Cottontail Rabbits. The Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 203-207
  2. University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web: Sylvilagus floridanus[1] Accessed 13 August 2009.
  3. University of Michigan's Animal Diversity Web: Sylvilagus floridanus[2] Accessed 13 August 2009.



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