White-sided Jackrabbit, Lepus callotis

The white-sided jackrabbit (Lepus callotis) has a limited range extending from northwestern and central Mexico to southern New Mexico in the United States. This rabbit is also called the Mexican Hare. There are two subspecies of the white-sided jackrabbit. It prefers a habitat at high elevations, living in open plains and on plateaus.  This rabbit will not live where there are mountains or hills, and will also avoid areas where trees and shrubs are dominate.

The body length of this rabbit is between sixteen to thirty inches. The legs of the white-sided jackrabbit are long, with a length of up to six inches in the front and twelve inches for the hind legs. When fully grown, this jackrabbits’ ears can be up to six inches long. The tail is short compared to the rest of the body, reaching a maximum length of four inches. Every toe has strong claws, and the hind feet have four toes while the front feet have five. The fur characteristics of this rabbit vary depending on the season. In warmer months, it is short and rough, with a mixed pale amber and black color. The underbelly is white, and there may be white patches on the front of the thighs. As the name suggests, the sides of the rabbit are white, as well as under the tail and limbs. Each limb, however, is peppered with a brown color. The points on the yellowish-brown ears are colored white, and just below there are black tufts. During the winter, the fur color changes to grey, with the front of the forelegs and tops of the feet being white. The underside of the tail will change to partly black.

The white-sided jackrabbit is active during the night or the twilight hours. It is usually active on clear nights when the moon is bright. Although temperature has little effect on these rabbits, the amount of light, precipitation, and wind do affect its activity levels. In most cases, white-sided jackrabbits will make their homes out of patches of clumped grass, enforcing it with strands of tobosagrass. These shelters can have a depth of up to eight inches and a length of up to fifteen inches. The width of the grass shelter can be up to 20 inches.  It is very rare that a white-sided jackrabbit will live underground.

It is common for two jackrabbits to appear together, and this is most evident during mating season. Bond characteristics include the male defending the home and family, close proximity, fleeing from danger together, and staying together during pregnancy. They can only breed for eighteen weeks from April to August, and they can have up to two young per litter. Each baby is born with soft fur and will mature at a quick rate.

This rabbit can make three different vocalizations. One, a grunt like trill, is used when finding a mate, but it is not clear which rabbit makes the sound. Another vocalization can be heard from male rabbits when another male approaches a pair, and consists of a series of grunts that are made until the strange rabbit leaves. The last call it can make is a high-pitched cry, used when danger is near.

White-sided jackrabbits feed mainly on grasses. These can include buffalograss, fiddleneck, wolftail, and tobosagrass. They will also eat a non-grass plant called sedge nutgrass.  The rabbits will brace themselves against the ground to tear grass and chew it in a crouched position, except when they are removing tubers from sedge nutgrass. They will often leave pellets in the indentions left from the tubers.

The conservation status of the white-sided jackrabbit is listed as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN. It is not considered a major pest, like most rabbits, to farmers and it is protected from hunting in most of its territory. Conservation efforts for this rabbit in its regions are thought to be poor, and farming growth has affected its habitat areas. However, the white-sided jackrabbit has proved to be adaptable.

Image Caption: White sided jackrabbit (Lepus callotis) in New Mexico feeding on blue grama and buffalograss. Credit: Myles Traphagen/Wikipedia