Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)

You will not see me on exhibit, but you might see me hopping around the Zoo grounds.

The eastern cottontail is the most widespread and most plentiful of the cottontail rabbits found in North America. They bear a close resemblance to the New England cottontail, which is the only rabbit native to Connecticut. They are very territorial and are known to be intolerant of one another. They are most active in the early evening when visibility is restricted and spend much of the daylight hours resting under cover.When they are being chased, they run in a zigzag pattern to break up their scent tracks, reaching speeds of 18 mph. Hopping is the main means of movement.

The eastern cottontail can be seen all hours of the day or night.  They are active throughout the year, do not hibernate and may use dens of other animals for temporary shelter during a heavy snowstorm.They prefer areas where they can be out in the open but can access hiding spots quickly. They have a keen sense of smell, sight and hearing. When an enemy is near they send out a distress cry which startles the enemy and warns others that danger is near. They will also use their large hind feet to thump on the ground, possibly as an alarm signal.

Description: 

Known for its short white underside "cotton" tail, the eastern cottontail coloration changes in spring and fall. In the spring their coat is browner. The fall molt leaves them with a coat that is more a gray brownish color. They have a white abdomen. This large brown eyed, large eared rabbit is approximately15–19 inches long, weighing 2-4 ½ pounds. Females are larger than males.Their soft silky coat is kept clean by rolling in dry soil.

Habitat: 

Found in meadows, open woods, forest edges, grassy open areas, pastures, fields with large amounts of green grass that have a lot of shrubbery nearby for cover. Eastern cottontails usually inhabit one home range throughout their lifetime, but home range can shift depending on food supply and changes to terrain.

Range: 

The eastern cottontail can be found in most of the eastern United States to the Great Plains, as well as southern Canada, parts of Mexico and South America.

Diet: 

Herbivore. Diet varies depending on availability between seasons. In summer, green vegetation is preferred, various grasses and clover, dandelions, poison ivy, berries, apples, vegetables and seedlings, corn. In winter, bark and twigs, leaves, buds of various trees. They also consume their own fecal pellets.

Life Span: 

Less than 3 years in the wild, 8 years under human care. Predators include dogs, hawks, owls, coyotes, bobcat, domestic cats, foxes, weasels, raccoon and humans.

Family Life: 

Solitary, except when mating and raising young. Temperature rather than diet has been suggested as a primary factor controlling onset of breeding; many studies correlate severe weather with delays in the start of breeding. Breeding begins between February to mid-September, depending on temperature. Areas that have warmer climates year round promote breeding year round.  Dominant males will do most of the breeding and will mate with more than one female. The males do not assist with caring of the young. The female prepares a nest made of grass and fur from the female’s belly. The nest is usually in a hollow area beneath a shrub or a log or in tall grass. Gestation ranges from 25 to 28 days. The young are born blind with a very fine coat of hair. Eyes open within 5-7 days. Young begin to move from the nest on short intervals at about 2 weeks and are completely independent by 4 to 5 weeks. Litters disperse at approximately 7 weeks. Females do not stay in the nest continually but return to nurse twice a day. Reproductive maturity occurs at about 2 to 3 months of age. Female’s average 3-4 litters a year, 1 to 12 young, called “kits,” with the average litter of 5.

Status: 

Least Concern.