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Eastern Cottontail

Sylvilagus floridanus

Eastern cottontails escape from predators by quickly hopping away in a zig-zag pattern. (Carly & Art/ Flickr)
Eastern cottontails escape from predators by quickly hopping away in a zig-zag pattern. (Carly & Art/ Flickr)

The eastern cottontail is a brownish, medium-sized rabbit that lives in fields, farms, woods and backyards throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Appearance:

  • Mostly brown fur guarded by long, coarse gray and black hairs
  • Fur is shorter and browner in summer and longer and grayer in winter
  • White belly
  • Fluffy white tail
  • Big, dark eyes
  • Often has a white spot on the forehead
  • Long ears
  • Large hind legs and feet
  • Grows to 15-18 inches and weighs no more than 3 pounds

Habitat:

  • Found in farms, woods, parks, fields, backyards and similar areas
  • Mostly nocturnal
  • Nearly always lives alone

Range:

  • Found throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed
  • Stays within a home range of about 5-8 acres

Feeding:

  • Feeds on many plants, including clover, sprouts, grasses, sedges, vines and shrubs
  • Gets its water from the plants it eats
  • Usually feeds just after dawn and sunset

Predators:

  • Hawks, owls, weasels and red foxes all prey on cottontails
  • Humans hunt cottontails for their meat and fur
  • Escapes from predators by either quickly zig-zagging across a field or slowly creeping away while staying low to the ground

Voice:

  • Makes many sounds, including cries, grunts and squeals

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Mates several times between February-September
  • Reaches sexual maturity by 2-3 months old
  • Females can produce up to seven litters of 3-5 young each year
  • Builds a fur-lined nest of dried grasses and leaves
  • Gestationperiod lasts 25-28 days
  • Young are born blind and helpless. Their eyes open in about 4-5 days.
  • Females nurse their young 1-2 times per day, but otherwise take little care of them
  • Young leave the next within seven weeks. The female gives birth to another litter soon after her previous litter leaves.
  • Usually does not live longer than three years

Other Facts:

  • A quick runner that can reach speeds of up to 18 miles per hour
  • Has excellent vision, hearing and sense of smell
  • Gardeners, farmers and foresters consider cottontails to be a nuisance
  • Tends to be intolerant of other cottontails, which is why it usually lives alone
  • Can be confused with the marsh rabbit. You can distinguish an eastern cottontail by its long ears and fluffy white tail. Also, eastern cottontails are extremely common throughout the Bay watershed, while marsh rabbits are only found in marshes and swamps in southeastern Virginia.

Sources and Additional Information:

Places:


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