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Facts about Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Sonia Nair
Eastern cottontails are the most commonly found rabbits in North America. This story provides some interesting facts about these rabbits.
Eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) belong to the family Leporidae and genus Sylvilagus. This rabbit has a small tail, with a puffy white underside, which resemble a cotton ball. The name 'cottontail' is derived from this feature. These rabbits belong to the Americas and are commonly found in North America.

Physical Features

The eastern cottontail rabbit has a compact body with long hind legs, long ears, large brown eyes, and a short tail. Its fur is either reddish-brown or grayish-brown in color. During winters, the fur color changes to a grayish shade.
The fur around the nose, and underside of the tail and belly, is white. Almost all of them have a gray patch around their neck. An average eastern cottontail rabbit can weigh between 2 to 4 pounds. The young ones called 'kits', have an additional white mark on their forehead, which fades with age.

Distribution and Habitat

These rabbits are mostly found in Southern Canada, Eastern Mexico, Central America, northern regions of South America and eastern and south-central United States. They can be commonly seen in New Mexico, Arizona and mid-west North America. Nowadays, these rabbits are found in New England too.
They can live in a variety of habitats, but they prefer woody and shrubby areas and open country. It is also observed that, areas near water sources are preferred by these rabbits. They like places with dense vegetation, which offer them adequate cover.

Dietary Habits and Behavior

Eastern cottontail rabbits are herbivores, who love to feed on grass, bark, twigs, fruits, and vegetables. During winters, they feed on the bark of brambles, birch, oak, dogwood, and maple trees, and buds and twigs; whereas their summer and spring diet includes grass, fruits, vegetables, other green vegetation, and clovers.
They are nocturnal animals, who are active at dawn and dusk. It is difficult to chase them as they run in a zigzag manner, to confuse predators. They can leap up to 15 feet, and can run at the speed of 18 miles per hour.
This ability helps them to protect themselves from predators. Sometimes, they stand on their hind legs to keep an eye out for predators.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

The mating season of these rabbits is from February to September. It is observed that, they perform a mating dance. The female builds a nest in the ground, using grass and fur. The gestation period is around a month, and the female gives birth to a maximum of nine kits.
The females may mate again, soon after giving birth, and can breed four to five times a year. They feed the young ones twice a day, for a period of three months. The kits leave the nest after seven weeks, and reach maturity after three to four months.
They are proficient breeders, and can produce many offspring. They are preyed upon by hawks, barn owls, opossums, coyotes, foxes, weasels, and many other animals. Humans also hunt them for their fur and meat.
They are also trapped and killed for damaging farms and gardens. They have a varying population, depending on various habitats. Any disturbance or loss of habitat, may adversely affect the population of these beautiful creatures.