The Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) is a New World cottontail rabbit, and a member of the family Leporidae. It is one of the most common rabbit species in North America.
These rabbits are chunky red-brown or gray-brown in appearance. They have large hind feet, long ears and a short fluffy white tail. The bottom is hairy. There is a rusty patch on the tail.
They can be found in meadows and shrubby areas in the eastern and southwestern United States. They can also be found in southern Canada, eastern Mexico and Central America. Their range expanded north as settlers cleared forests. Originally, the Eastern Cottontail was not found in New England. They have been introduced there and now compete for habitat with the native New England Cottontail.
They eat green vegetation such as grasses and clover in summer. In the winter they eat, bark, buds and twigs. These animals are active at night. They do not hibernate in winter. Predators include hawks, owls, mustelids and lynx. People also hunt them for food in many parts of their range. Their fur is also used for clothing.
On farms and in gardens, the Eastern cottontail is usually considered a pest. They are often trapped or shot to protect plants.
Males will mate with more than one female. Female rabbits have 2 to 4 large litters of up to 8 young in a year. They build a nest in the ground lined with grass and fur. Young females are often able to breed at 3 months.
The eastern cottontail is found in a variety of places along the east U.S. It is found mostly in Ohio and Missouri. It has been found in New Mexico and Arizona. The cottontail mates from February to September with up to 9 kittens resulting from each litter. They average 3 litters a year. After the female has given birth to her offspring, she can mate again immediately thereafter. The kittens are weaned after 3 weeks and leave the nest after seven weeks. The kittens then reach mating age after three months. Hunting and predation prevent the rabbit population from growing out of control. About 20 to 25% of the young rabbits live in a year and 85% of adults or young are killed every year. They are killed from the hunting season and their predators. Their predators are the fox, coyote, hawk, and eagles, to name a few.
Thier appearance differs from that of a hare. The cottontails have a brownish-gray coloring around the head and neck. The body is a lighter color with a white underside on the tail. They have large brown eyes and large ears to see listen for danger. In the winter they are more gray than brown. The kittens have the same coloring after a few weeks, but they also have a white blaze that goes down their forehead. This marking will eventually disappear. The average adult weighs about 2 to 4 pounds. The female tends to be heavier.
The eastern cottontail is a very territorial animal. They are nocturnal and are also active during early dawn and late dusk. When running they can jump from 10 to 15 feet which can aid in avoiding predators. When chased, it runs in a zigzag line. The animal chasing it will loose its scent and so the rabbit is harder to follow. They can run up to 15mph. The cottontail prefers an area where it can hide quickly but be out in the open. Forests, swamps, thickets, bushes or an open area where it can dig a burrow, are optimal habitation sites for this species. Its diet includes of grasses, fruits, and vegetables in the spring and summer. It eats twigs, bark, dogwoods and maple trees in the winter.