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Species Description

Eastern Cottontail

Sylvilagus floridanus


Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Lagomorpha
Family: Leporidae

Description

The long, soft fur is rusty brown in the summer and grayish brown in winter, with black guard hairs. The belly and tail are white, and the nape of the neck is rusty-red. The Eastern Cottontail is a moderately sized rabbit, measuring from 36 - 43 cm (14.2 - 16.9 in) in total length and weighing 0.9 - 1.8 kg (2 - 4 lbs). Like all rabbits, the Eastern Cottontail has short front legs and long hind legs.

Life Cycle

The Eastern Cottontail is a prolific breeder that may produce as many as 6 - 7 litters per year. Gestation takes about a month, and animals may breed year-round in the South if favorable weather conditions are present. From 1 - 9 young are born in a surface nest or depression lined with dry grasses, plant fibers, and fur from the female's chest. Young are naked and blind at birth. Within 10 days their eyes have opened and their body is covered in fur. Young are able to leave the nest within 2 weeks after birth. At the age of 4 - 5 weeks, the young leave the female to live on their own.

Natural History

The Eastern Cottontail is probably one of the most well-known and frequently observed mammals in urban and suburban landscapes in the eastern United States. A crepuscular species most active at dawn and dusk, this rabbit is often seen feeding in suburban lawns and gardens. In more natural habitats, this species inhabits forest edges, grasslands, meadows, and weedy stages of clear-cut forests. It feeds on a variety of grasses and forbs during the warm months and on twigs and tree bark during the winter. The Eastern Cottontail is the prey of a diverse array of predators, including owls, hawks, eagles, skunks, weasels, foxes, the Coyote, the Raccoon, the Opossum, and snakes. The Eastern Cottontail will use abandoned burrows of other animals to escape predators and severe weather such as heavy rain or snow. The broadly overlapping home ranges of females vary from 2 - 6.1 hectares (5 - 15 ac), those of males being somewhat larger. Breeding females are territorial. Densities of up to five rabbits per acre have been reported. The average life span for an Eastern Cottontail is only 15 months.

Range

Eastern Cottontail Region Map The Eastern Cottontail ranges throughout the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, but is absent from Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. This species is found throughout Georgia.

Conservation Status

The Eastern Cottontail is an important game species. Its hunting season in Georgia is from mid-November to February.

Similar Species

The Swamp Rabbit is larger and generally has longer ears and hind feet. The Marsh Rabbit has a gray venter and the underside of its tail is grayish rather than the white of the Eastern Cottontail. The Swamp Rabbit and Marsh Rabbit also lack the Cottontail's distinct rusty nape patch and do not have pale whitish feet.