Field Guide/Mammals/Eastern Cottontail
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|Sylvilagus Floridanus (Eastern Cottontail)|
Family: Rabbits and Hares
Size: Total Length: 12-16 inches (304.8-406.4mm) 
Tail Length: No more than 2 inches (25-54mm) Weight: 2-3 pounds (0.9-1.4 kg) 
Description: This large cottontail has long, dense fur that ranges in color from brown to grey. The underbody and tail are white. Some may have fur that looks patchy in color.
Similar Species: The Eastern Cottontail has a patch of fur on its neck that may be yellow-brown to black which distinguishes it from other species.
Range: The Eastern Cottontail is found in the middle to eastern parts of the United States and the northern parts of South America. They may be found in small parts of the southwest and northwest United States. In Minnesota specifically, they are grossly populated throughout the entire state.
Habitat: This species lives in a variety of diverse habitats. These habitats include prairies, deserts, swamps, glades, and various types of forests. The Eastern Cottontail also may reside in areas that are more developed such as farms, pastures, and shrubs.
Diet: This species is a herbivore. The Eastern Cottontail’s diet varies based on the time of year. In the winter, this species eats twigs and bark. In the summer, they eat green plants such as clover or grass. At times, the Eastern Cottontail may eat its droppings to consume nutrients.
Activity: The Eastern Cottontail is most active at dawn and dusk. If the moon is out, they may be more active during the night. The Eastern Cottontail is more active in the winter than the summer especially during times when there is more snow and less food around. The species' highest activity level is in the winter, when the temperature is between 0 and 33 degrees Fahrenheit.
Reproduction: Reproductive seasons vary based on the location of the animal. Cottontails living at higher elevations start their breeding seasons later than those living at lower elevations. The average gestation is 28 days. Most females have 3-5 babies per litter and have 3-4 litters each year. The Eastern Cottontail is prolific meaning the female can be bred shortly after giving birth. The female may abandon her babies if she gets pregnant again. The babies would then live alone in a ground nest for about three weeks.
Lifespan: The average lifespan of the Eastern Cottontail is 15 months in the wild. Their potential lifespan is 10 years, but most do not survive their second year. In captivity, the Eastern Cottontail may die of shock instantly.
Notes: According to the IUCN Red List, the Eastern Cottontail is of least concern for threatened species. Eastern Cottontails are a very common species in Minnesota. In fact, they are one of the most common mammals seen here. Most predators hunt Cottontails including humans who may enjoy eating their meat. Babies are the size of the human thumb at birth.
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (2012), Eastern Cottontail, https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/easterncottontail.html, retrieved (October 4, 2012)
- Chapman, J; Hockman, J (1980), "Sylvilagus Floridanus", Mammalian Species 136: 1–8, http://www.science.smith.edu/msi/pdf/i0076-3519-136-01-0001.pdf, retrieved October 4, 2012
- Mexican Association for Conservation and Study of Lagomorphs; Romero Malpica, F; Rangel Cordero, H (2008), Sylvilagus floridanus, http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/41299/0, retrieved (October 8, 2012)