Do you know about cottontail rabbits? Chances are, you probably do. Found all over North and South America, Cottontail Rabbits reside in the country and are present in both cold and warm climates.
Cottontail rabbits are one of the most common mammals you can see in the wild, and they are famous for “freezing” in place to avoid being noticed.
This makes them fun to watch, as they will let you get pretty close before they quickly hop away in a zig-zag pattern. But there is so much more to these rabbits than just playing freeze tag.
So if you’re interested in learning more about these adorable critters, then this article will teach you all about them, including their breed info, lifespan, gestation, and other fun facts.
What are Cottontail Rabbits?
These rabbits are likely the most common type of rabbit you’ll see in the country. This ubiquitous animal can be found from Canada to South America and from the East Coast to the Great Plains.
They are so-called because the underside of their tails – which curls up against their lower back – is white, making it look like a small piece of cotton.
This is true regardless of the color of the rabbit, which can vary from gray to reddish-brown to reddish-brown that is speckled or spotted. There are even some that have spots in their heads.
Regardless of the variety, these color variations serve an essential purpose: to help these rabbits stay hidden from predators. Additionally, cottontail rabbits have big eyes, usually with a white rim around them.
Like other members of the Leporidae family, cottontail rabbits possess sharp senses of hearing, smell, and eyesight. While they look adorable, these rabbits can run as fast as 18 miles per hour to try to escape predators.
To date, there are approximately ten species of cottontail rabbits, including:
- Eastern cottontail (most common)
- Audobon’s cottontail
- Brush rabbit
- Marsh rabbit
- Mountain cottontail
Although all of them are distinct species, all are commonly referred to as just cottontail rabbits.
If you’re interested in exploring other fascinating rabbit breeds, you can check out our detailed guide on the 10 Most Popular Black Rabbit Breeds. Additionally, we have a comprehensive overview of 50 different types of rabbits found worldwide.
Cottontail Rabbit Habitat and Diet
When it comes to habitat, cottontail rabbits can pretty much adapt anywhere, even in places that humans relatively crowd. This is why it’s common to see them hopping around even in parks nearby grasslands.
These bunnies are found all over the eastern part of North America, ranging from the U.S. to Canada, eastern Mexico, and even Central America. There are also smaller populations that can be found in the Southwest.
In terms of habitat, cottontail rabbits favor places that offer protection and cover from predators. This means piles of grass, brush, thickets, and young deciduous forests.
Some live in edge environments along swamps and marshes. And while cottontail rabbits don’t dig burrows, they also sometimes live in other animals’ abandoned burrows.
As for food, cottontail rabbits consume a wide variety of plant materials. What they eat also depends on the availability and palatability of plants.
Their feeding habits also change with the seasons, often eating grasses in both summer and winter. They also prefer herbaceous plants and cedar berries.
To save on protein and energy, cottontail rabbits also perform coprophagy, eating their dry droppings.
How do Cottontail Rabbits Behave and Live?
For many reasons, it’s not easy being a wild cottontail rabbit. For one thing, cottontail rabbits are often considered as the “poster child” for prey species, as nearly all predators tend to eat them.
These predators include:
Because of this, only 25% of these rabbits die of old age (around three years), with the average lifespan coming to only about 15 months. Still, cottontail rabbits have adapted well enough throughout evolution, which is why they have a wide distribution all over America.
Cottontail rabbits are also crepuscular animals, choosing to hide and sleep in burrows and the underbrush during the daytime.
Cottontails are also completely silent and often communicate with others by thumping their feet on the ground. When captured, they can scream at a high pitch. They are also almost always on high alert.
What are the Breeding Habits of Cottontail Rabbits?
Their breeding season begins as early as February, although the actual breeding variables differ include food, day length, and temperature.
When a male and female cottontail rabbit begins courtship, they often cavort or chase each other, usually during dawn and dusk. Male cottontail rabbits are also polygynous, meaning they mate with several females.
Once the female becomes pregnant, cottontail kids arrive after 28 days as vulnerable, hairless, and blind babies.
These newborns are often placed in a nest by the mother, who is always nearby to watch for predators. However, cottontail rabbit babies grow rapidly and open their eyes within a week or so.
Because cottontail rabbits are below the food chain, they have adapted to reproduce quickly, as female cottontail rabbits become fertile again just 24 hours after giving birth.
Male cottontail rabbits also become sexually mature one month after birth, while female cottontails have to wait a little longer at four months. Female cottontails can also have two to four litters per year.
Are Cottontail Rabbits Ecologically Important?
Yes! Cottontail rabbits are a significant part of their food chain.
For one thing, they are primary consumers as they eat plants. Cottontail rabbits also comprise the diets of many predator species, and these predators usually hunt them down when their populations grow high.
They are also a popular game species for hunters, and they help contribute to a healthy food chain.
Should You Keep Cottontail Rabbits as Pets?
Unfortunately, no. Cottontail rabbits are feral and wild animals that require a specific type of care and attention.
These animals do not hold well in captivity and trying to pet one will only do more harm than good.
And if you want to take care of a rabbit, then they are easily plenty of domesticated rabbit options you can choose from.
Easily recognizable for their ears and tail, cottontail rabbits are one of the most common rabbits in all of America and serve a significant role in their food chain.
I hope this article provided you with important insight about these animals, and I hope that information helps you become a more responsible pet owner and human being, whether you own a rabbit or not.