Friday, March 22, 2013

Native Species Profile - Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

The Eastern Cottontail Rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) is found across eastern North America from the Atlantic Coast west to the Great Plains.  It ranges north into southern Canada and New England and south to the Gulf Coast.  Its range extends south into Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.

An adult Cottontail Rabbit "periscoping" for a better view above vegetation

It is an animal that prefers patchy habitats with a mixture of fields, brush, and young forests.  It will also live in wetlands.  It even thrives in suburban lawns and parks.  Because it prefers mixed habitats over mature forests, the population of Cottontail Rabbits has probably increased in the last 200 years as forests have been logged off and converted to farmland and suburban housing. They eat a mostly vegetarian diet of grasses, leaves, bark, and twigs, with the occasional insect also being consumed.  Many human altered landscapes are perfect "rabbitat".

Rabbits are prolific breeders.  A female rabbit can have her first litter of young (known as kits) at the age of 3 to 4 months.  Each litter can contain up to 11 young, with an average litter size of five kits.  In northern parts of their range, like in Mid-Michigan, an average female will have from 3 to 4 litters per year.  An average female will produce 15 to 20 young per year in Mid-Michigan.  Some of those young will also produce litters that same year.

So why isn't the world overrun by Cottontail Rabbits?

There are lots of things that eat them.  The Cottontail Rabbit is from 14 to 18 inches long and weighs between 1.5 and 4.5 pounds.  They are the perfect sized meal for many predators including foxes, coyote, bobcat, domestic dogs and cats, hawks, and owls.  Large numbers are also killed  by automobiles while attempting to cross roads.  These factors combined with long hunting seasons keep the Cottontail Rabbit at a reasonable level that prevents them from exhausting their food supplies and going through periodic high and low population cycles.

Because of these reliable populations, the Cottontail Rabbit was very important as a source of food and clothing to many Native American tribes.  The rabbit is revered by many tribes.  Among Anishinabe people such as the Ojibway and Ottawa, their great culture hero and trickster figure Nanaboozhoo is often depicted as taking the form of a rabbit.  In this rabbit form his is referred to as Mishabooz (Great Hare/Rabbit) or Chi-wabooz (Big Rabbit).  To Anishinabe speakers the Cottontail Rabbit is known as "wabooz"

Basic Information

Cottontail Rabbit 
Sylvilagus floridanus

Size:  14-18” long

Habitat:  wetlands, woodlands, fields, suburban areas

Eats:  grass, dandelions, other green plants, raspberries, roses, saplings, twigs, bark, other woody plants

Is Eaten By:  hawks, owls, raven, great blue heron, weasels, opossum, mink, bobcat, lynx, red fox, gray fox, coyote, gray wolf, house cat, dog, rat snake

1 comment:

  1. After reading about how many young a female might have in one year, I feel a little better about how many of them my cat eats in the spring. He sometimes seems excessive, occasionally having more than one per day or having them several days in a row so I require that they actually be consumed not just killed.