Cottontail Rabbits

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Rabbits are commonly mistaken for rodents, but belong to their own order called lagomorphs. Cottontails vary in color from gray to brown and have large ears, large hind feet, and fluffy tails. They average about a foot in length and weigh 2 to 3 pounds. Cottontails are generally found in brushy hedgerows, edges of open fields and meadows, areas of dense high grass, in wood thickets, along fence rows, forest edges, and the borders of marshy areas. They also do very well in suburbs and urban areas. In summer, cottontails feed almost entirely on tender grasses and herbs. Vegetables such as peas, beans, and lettuce are also eaten. In winter, bark, twigs, and buds of shrubs and young trees are eaten. Rabbits will also re-ingest their own fecal pellets, increasing their level of vitamins and minerals.

Cottontail rabbits do not burrow underground to make nests like their European cousins. Rather, they nest in depressions in the ground.

The New England cottontail and the Eastern cottontail are almost identical in appearance, except for slight variations in color. Around half of the Eastern cottontail population shows a white, star like shape on the forehead, while none of the New England cottontails exhibit this trait. ( Eastern cottontail was introduced into New England in the late 1800s and early 1900s and has been expanding its range since then, out-competing the native New England cottontail for its habitat. In the mid-1930s, New England cottontails were still considered abundant and more numerous than the Eastern cottontail. However, as agricultural areas reverted back to forest and these forests matured, populations of both species were reduced. Presently, the Eastern cottontail is now the predominant species. ( England cottontails range almost everywhere throughout the New England area. Northern cottontails range from New England to the Hudson River and south down the Appalachian Mountains. The Eastern cottontail is more abundant and its range is expanding, while the New England cottontail's range is diminishing. ( New England cottontails live in the biome known as the temperate deciduous forests which receives an average annual rainfall of 30-60 inches. The normal temperature range of the deciduous forests on the east coast of North America is 20-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Weather ranges almost entirely across the spectrum of known meteorological occurrences. Sunny warm weather is common here during the summer with occasional rain showers. Snow is not uncommon during the winter. Also, there are four distinct seasons in this biome. Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall are all easily identifiable from each other.

Due to its high productivity rate, the cottontail rabbit is an important link in the food chain and a principle prey item for many species. It is also a popular game species throughout its range. Depending on its availability, the cottontail can be considered a buffer prey species, which means if rabbit numbers are high, predators will concentrate on them, thereby reducing the pressure on other prey species. Generally, New England cottontails primary predators include foxes, cats, dogs, stoats, mink, people, birds of prey ( rabbits are active all year long, foraging for food mainly at night. During the day, they remain concealed in dense brush, which protects them from predators and harsh weather. In times of extreme weather conditions or to escape predators, rabbits will readily utilize an abandoned woodchuck burrow for protection. A rabbit's home range varies greatly with the quality of habitat, but generally averages about three acres for females and eight acres for males. ( have very keen sight and hearing. When danger is sensed, the animal will usually freeze in place until the danger has passed, but they will flush readily if approached too closely. Rabbits normally move slowly in short hops or jumps, but when frightened they can achieve speeds up to 18 miles per hour over a short distance. They often weave to confuse a pursuing predator. Although they do not take to the water often, rabbits are good swimmers. They will thump the ground with their hind feet regularly, probably as a means of communication. When playing, breeding, or fighting they often make low purring, growling, or grunting sounds. If captured by a predator, the animal may produce a loud, shrill scream. ( occurs from March through early fall. Females do not dig their own nest burrows, but rather scratch out a slight depression in the ground in an area of dense grass for concealment. The nest is lined with fur and dry grass. The gestation period is about 28 days. Cottontails usually bear two to four litters of kittens per year, with about three to eight young per litter. Young rabbits are born blind, without fur, and helpless. They grow rapidly, leaving the nest after only two to three weeks. They are weaned and totally independent at four to five weeks. On average, 15% of the young will survive their first year. Adults are usually solitary creatures by nature, except when a female is caring for its young. ( Cited1."DEP: Cottontail Fact Sheet." Portal. Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. Web. 10 Dec. 2009. .

2."Living With Cottontails." Mass.Gov. Web. 10 Dec. 2009. .

3."Rabbit Facts." Compassionate Action Institute, 2000. Web. 18 Nov. 2009. .

4."cottontail rabbit." The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. 10 Dec. 2009 .