The Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii) is a New World cottontail rabbit, a member of the family Leporidae.
Desert Cottontails are found throughout the central United States from eastern Montana to western Texas. It is also found northern Mexico. Their range extends to central Nevada and southern California and Baja California. They are found at heights of up to 6,562 feet (2000 meters). They are particularly associated with the dry near-desert grasslands of the American southwest. They are also found in less dry habitats such as juniper forest.
The Desert Cottontail is quite similar in appearance to the Eurasian Rabbit. Its ears are larger and are more often carried erect. It is also much less of a social animal, and makes much less use of burrows. Like all the cottontail rabbits, the cesert cottontail has a rounded tail with white fur on the underside. They are a light grayish-brown in color, with almost white fur on the belly. Adults are 12 to 17 in (33 to 43 cm) long and weigh up to 3.31 lbs (1.5 kg). The ears are long 3.15 to 3.94 in (8 to 10 cm). The hind feet are large. There is little sexual difference, but females tend to be larger than the males.
Desert Cottontails are not usually active in the middle of the day. They can be seen in the early morning or late afternoon. They mainly eat grass, but will eat many other plants, even cacti. They rarely need to drink. They get their water mostly from the plants they eat or from dew. Like most rabbits, they eat and chew their own feces. This allows more nutrition to be extracted.
Many desert animals prey on cottontails, including eagles, owls, hawks, mustelids, coyotes, bobcats and humans. Southwestern Native Americans hunted them for meat but also used their fur and hides. The cottontail’s normal anti-predator behavior is run away in zigzags. They can reach speeds of over 18 miles per hour (30 km/h). Against small predators, they will defend themselves by kicking.
The young are born in a shallow burrow or above ground. They are helpless when born, and do not leave the nest until they are three weeks old. When climate and food supply permit, females can produce several litters a year. Unlike the Eurasian rabbit, they do not form social burrow systems