The eastern cottontail has mostly brown fur guarded by long, coarse gray and black hairs. Its fur is shorter and brown in summer and longer and gray in winter. It has a white belly and a fluffy, white tail. It has long ears; big, dark eyes; and often has a white spot on its forehead. It has large hind legs and feet. The eastern cottontail grows 15 to 18 inches in length and weighs no more than 3 pounds.
The eastern cottontail feeds on many plants, including clover, sprouts, grasses, sedges, vines and shrubs. It gets its water from the plants it eats. It usually feeds just after dawn and sunset.
Hawks, owls, weasels and red foxes all prey on cottontails. Humans hunt cottontails for their meat and fur. The cottontail escapes from predators by either quickly zig-zagging across a field or slowly creeping away while staying low to the ground.
Eastern cottontails make various sounds. When playing, fighting, or breeding, they will make low purring, grunting, squealing, or growling noises. If the cottontail is captured by a predator, it is likely to produce a loud, shrill scream which can startle the enemy and warn other rabbits of danger.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Mating occurs several times between February and September. Females can produce up to seven litters of 3 to 5 young each year. The rabbits build fur-lined nests of dried grasses and leaves. Gestation lasts 25 to 28 days. Young are born blind and helpless; their eyes open in about 4 to 5 days.
Females nurse their young 1 to 2 times per day, but otherwise take little care of them. Young leave the nest within seven weeks. The female gives birth to another litter soon after her previous litter leaves. Young reach sexual maturity by 2 to 3 months old. Cottontails usually do not live longer than three years.
Did You Know?
- Cottontails are quick runners that can reach speeds of up to 18 miles per hour.
- They have excellent vision, hearing and sense of smell. They are mostly nocturnal and nearly always lives alone.
- Gardeners, farmers and foresters consider cottontails to be a nuisance.
- Individual cottontails tend to not tolerate other cottontails. This is why they usually live alone
- While sometimes 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.