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Overview

Brief Summary

Description

Eastern Cottontails share habitats with seven other cottontails and six species of hares. They have been transplanted to areas outside their historically widespread range, which included swamps, prairies, woodlands, and forests. They have two ways of escaping danger: a zig-zag dash or a slink, in which they creep along, low to the ground, with their ears back. Eastern Cottontails are among the most prolific lagomorphs. Females can have seven litters a year, producing as many as 35 young. Litters, usually of 3 6, are born in a fur-lined nest of dried grasses and leaves.

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  • Original description: Allen, J.A., 1890.  Descriptions of a new species and a new subspecies of the genus LepusBulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 3:159-160.
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Distribution

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: Widest distribution of any SYLVILAGUS species; ranges from southern Canada into central and northwestern South America. In North America, occurs east of the Rocky Mountains.

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Range Description

Sylvilagus floridanus is widely distributed throughout the USA (eastern USA east of the Rocky Mountains, portions of southwest and northwest), Central America (central and eastern Mexico, southwestern Guatemala, southern Honduras, El Salvador, central Nicaragua, northwestern Costa Rica), and occurs in southern Canada (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec) and the northern part of South America (Colombia and Venezuela) (Chapman et al. 1980).

S. floridanus can survive in diverse habitats, allowing the range to spread quickly (Chapman and Ceballos 1990).
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Geographic Range

Eastern cottontails are only native to the Nearctic region. They are found from southern Ontario and Manitoba in Canada to central and northwestern South America. In the United States, they range from the east coast to the Great Plains in the west. They have been introduced into portions of the western United States.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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The eastern cottontail range extends from the Great Plains and
throughout the eastern United States and extreme southern Canada south
through eastern Mexico and central America and west into parts of Texas,
New Mexico, and Arizona [17,27]. Transplanted eastern cottontails have
established large breeding populations in Washington and Oregon [48].
The range of eastern cottontail overlaps those of six other cottontails
(Sylvilagus spp.) and six species of hares (Lepus spp.) [10].
  • 10. Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Ojeda C., Magaly M. 1980. Sylvilagus floridanus. Mammalian Species. 136: 1-8. [25167]
  • 27. Godin, Alfred J. 1977. Wild mammals of New England. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. 304 p. [25150]
  • 48. Nowak, Ronald M.; Paradiso, John L. 1983. Walker's mammals of the world. 4th edition. 4th edition. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. 568 p. [25151]
  • 17. DeGraaf, Richard M.; Yamasaki, Mariko. 1986. New England wildlife: habitat, natural history, and distribution. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-108. Broomall, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 491 p. [21386]

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Regional Distribution in the Western United States

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This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):

5 Columbia Plateau
7 Lower Basin and Range
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
14 Great Plains
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands

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Occurrence in North America

AL AZ AR CO CT DE FL GA IL IN
IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS
MO MT NE NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH
OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX VT VA
WA WV WI WY MB ON PQ SK YT

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Geographic Range

The eastern cottontail has the widest distribution of any Sylvilagus. It is found from southern Manitoba and Quebec to Central and northwestern South America. In the contiguous United States, the eastern cottontail ranges from the east to the Great Plains in the west.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Eastern cottontails have two different fur coats each year. During the summer they have short brown fur with a white belly. During the winter the fur becomes longer and grayer, with a white belly. All year long the underside of the tail is white. This white tail is the source of their common name. Adult eastern cottontails reach a length of 395 to 477 mm. They also have very large eyes for their size. Females are slightly larger than males.

Range mass: 0.8 to 1.53 kg.

Range length: 395.0 to 477.0 mm.

Average length: 430.0 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: female larger

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Physical Description

Adult eastern cottontails reach a length of 395 to 477 mm. A dense, buffy brown underfur and longer, coarser gray- and black-tipped guard hairs cover the back of the eastern cottontail. Its rump and flanks are gray, and it has a prominent rufous patch on its nape. The ventral surface is white. The eastern cottontail shows the white underside of its short tail when it is running. This rabbit undergoes two molts per year. The spring molt, lasting from mid-April to mid-July, leaves a short summer coat that is more brown. From mid-September to the end of October, the change to longer, grayer pelage occurs for winter. The eastern cottontail has four pairs of mammary glands. It also has distinctive large eyes for its size.

Range mass: 0.8 to 1.53 kg.

Range length: 395.0 to 477.0 mm.

Average length: 430.0 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: female larger

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Size

Length: 46 cm

Weight: 1800 grams

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Size in North America

Sexual Dimorphism: Females are larger than males.

Length:
Average: 430 mm
Range: 395-477 mm

Weight:
Range: 801-1,533 g
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Ecology

Habitat

Comments: Early mid-successional habitats over much of continental U.S. May be found in brushy areas, open woodlands, swampy areas, stream valleys, grasslands, and suburbs. Very adaptable species. Usually absent from boreal habitats and dense woods. Nests usually are in shallow depressions in thick vegetation or in underground burrows. Does not dig burrows.

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
The historical habitat of Sylvilagus floridanus was diverse, including deserts, swamps, glades, prairies, rain forests, boreal forests, hardwood forests, and woodlands (Chapman et al. 1980). In developed areas, S. floridanus survives well in farmland, pasture, and hedgerows (Chapman and Ceballos 1990).

The diet of S. floridanus is variable, depending on the type of habitat and the season, including woody plants in the dormant season and herbaceous plants in the growing season (Chapman et al. 1980). Breeding season varies depending on elevation and latitude, with breeding activity beginning later at higher elevations and northern latitudes (Chapman et al. 1980). Average gestation time is 28 days and size at birth ranges from 3.06-5.06 cm (Lorenzo and Cervantes 2005). Litter sizes are 3-5 with 3-4 litters per year (Lorenzo and Cervantes 2005). Total length ranges from 33.5-48.5 cm (Lorenzo and Cervantes 2005).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Historically, Eastern cottontails inhabited a variety of habitat types, including deserts, swamps, and forests. They are now most often found in meadows, orchards, farmlands, bushes and areas with low bushes, vines and low deciduous trees.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

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Cover Requirements

More info for the terms: cover, shrubs

Eastern cottontails forage in open areas and use brush piles, stone
walls with shrubs around them, herbaceous and shrubby plants, and
burrows or dens for escape cover, shelter, and resting cover [17].
Woody cover is extremely important for the survival and abundance of
eastern cottontails [1]. Eastern cottontails do not dig their own dens
(other than nest holes) but use burrows dug by other species [27]. In
winter when deciduous plants are bare eastern cottontails forage in less
secure cover and travel greater distances [1]. Eastern cottontails
probably use woody cover more during the winter, particularly in areas
where cover is provided by herbaceous vegetation in summer [9]. In
Florida slash pine flatwoods, eastern cottontails use low saw-palmetto
(Serenoa repens) patches for cover within grassy areas [38].

Most nest holes are constructed in grasslands (including hayfields) [1].
The nest is concealed in grasses or weeds. Nests are also constructed
in thickets, orchards, and scrubby woods [27]. In southeastern Illinois
tallgrass prairie, eastern cottontail nests were more common in
undisturbed prairie grasses than in high-mowed or hayed plots [64]. In
Iowa most nests were within 70 yards (64.2 m) of brush cover in
herbaceous vegetation at least 4.0 inches (10.2 cm) tall. Nests in
hayfields were in vegetation less than 7.8 inches (20.0 cm ) tall [30].
Average depth of nest holes is 4.7 inches (120 mm), average width 5
inches (126 mm), and average length 7 inches (180 mm). The nest is
lined with grass and fur [9,48].
  • 1. Allen, A. W. 1984. Habitat suitability index models: eastern cottontail. FWS/OBS 0197-6087. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Biological Sciences, Western Energy Land Use Team. 23 p. [25164]
  • 9. Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Edwards, William R. 1982. Cottontails: Sylvilagus floridanus and allies. In: Chapman, Joseph A.; Feldhamer, George A., eds. Wild mammals of North America. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Univeristy Press: 83-123. [25231]
  • 27. Godin, Alfred J. 1977. Wild mammals of New England. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. 304 p. [25150]
  • 30. Hendrickson, George O. 1940. Nesting cover used by Mearns cottontail. Transactions, 5th North American Wildlife Conference. 5: 328-331. [25165]
  • 38. Komarek, Roy. 1963. Fire and the changing wildlife habitat. In: Proceedings, 2nd annual Tall Timbers fire ecology conference; 1963 March 14-15; Tallahassee, FL. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research Station: 35-43. [13532]
  • 48. Nowak, Ronald M.; Paradiso, John L. 1983. Walker's mammals of the world. 4th edition. 4th edition. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. 568 p. [25151]
  • 64. Westemeier, Ronald L.; Buhnerkempe, John E. 1983. Responses of nesting wildlife to prairie grass management on prairie chicken sanctuaries in Illinois. In: Brewer, Richard, ed. Proceedings, 8th North American prairie conference; 1982 August 1-4; Kalamazoo, MI. Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, Department of Biology: 39-46. [3120]
  • 17. DeGraaf, Richard M.; Yamasaki, Mariko. 1986. New England wildlife: habitat, natural history, and distribution. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-108. Broomall, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 491 p. [21386]

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Preferred Habitat

More info for the terms: cover, density, shrubs, succession, vine

Optimal eastern cottontail habitat includes open grassy areas,
clearings, and old fields supporting abundant green grasses and herbs,
with shrubs in the area or edges for cover [34]. The essential
components of eastern cottontail habitat are an abundance of
well-distributed escape cover (dense shrubs) interspersed with more open
foraging areas such as grasslands and pastures [1]. Habitat parameters
important for eastern cottontails in ponderosa pine, mixed species, and
pinyon (Pinus spp.)-juniper (Juniperus spp.) woodlands include woody
debris, herbaceous and shrubby understories, and patchiness [50].
Typically eastern cottontails occupy habitats in and around farms
including fields, pastures, open woods, thickets associated with
fencerows, wooded thickets, forest edges, and suburban areas with
adequate food and cover. They are also found in swamps and marshes and
usually avoid dense woods [17,27]. They are seldom found in deep woods
[27].

In Maryland eastern cottontails use forest edges and strip vegetation;
rose (usually multiflora rose [Rosa multiflora]) hedgerows are most
heavily used [46]. In Ohio preferred habitats include patches of
briars, vine entanglements, brush piles, and small conifers [7].

In Michigan abandoned farmlands in various stages of succession were
assessed for eastern cottontail habitat. Eastern cottontails were
present in all stages, but were most abundant from the fourth to the
sixth years after the last crop. Most use occurred in grass/perennials
and mixed herbaceous perennials. Hayfields were preferred as nesting
sites. Eastern cottontail numbers decreased through succession as
tolerant trees and canopy cover increased and shrubby ground cover
decreased [4].

In fragmented farmland habitats in southern Minnesota eastern cottontail
use is associated with dense woody vegetation and artificial cover
(brush piles), particularly in shelterbelts, strip vegetation
(uncultivated areas between fields), fencerows, and roadsides [58].

In western South Dakota eastern cottontails are associated with
black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colonies due to the
presence of higher vegetative diversity around black-tailed prairie dog
colonies than in the surrounding prairie [53].

In Colorado cottontails, including eastern cottontail, were present in
greater numbers in ungrazed bottomlands than on grazed areas. Within
the grazed areas eastern cottontails were present only where shrubs had
been moderately (instead of heavily) browsed [14].

In the Southeast eastern cottontails were most abundant in cultivated
areas, broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus) fields, and pine-hardwoods [44].

Home Range: The eastern cottontail home range is roughly circular in
uniform habitats. Eastern cottontails typically inhabit one home range
throughout their lifetime, but home range shifts in response to
vegetation changes and weather are common [1]. In New England eastern
cottontail home ranges average 1.4 acres (0.57 ha) for adult males and
1.2 acres (0.48 ha) for adult females [43] but vary in size from 0.5
acre to 40 acres (0.2-16.2 ha), depending on season, habitat quality,
and individual [17]. The largest ranges are occupied by adult males
during the breeding season. In southwestern Wisconsin adult male home
ranges averaged 6.9 acres (2.8 ha) in spring, increased to 10 acres (4.0
ha) in early summer, and decreased to 3.7 acres (1.5 ha) by late summer
[61]. Daily activity is usually restricted to 10 to 20 percent of the
overall home range [1].

In southeastern Wisconsin home ranges of males overlapped by up to 50
percent, but female home ranges did not overlap by more than 25 percent
and actual defense of range by females occurred only in the immediate
area of the nest. Males fight each other to establish dominance
hierarchy and mating priority [61].

Population Density: Local concentrations of up to eight eastern
cottontails per acre (20/ha) have been recorded, but densities are
usually lower [9]. In Kansas peak population density was 2.59 rabbits
per acre (6.4/ha) [3]. Density is regulated by mortality and dispersal
[9,25].
  • 1. Allen, A. W. 1984. Habitat suitability index models: eastern cottontail. FWS/OBS 0197-6087. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Biological Sciences, Western Energy Land Use Team. 23 p. [25164]
  • 3. Baker, Rhonda J.; Gress, Robert J.; Spencer, Dwight L. 1983. Mortality and population density of cottontail rabbits at Ross Natural History Reservation, Lyon County, Kansas. Emporia State Research Studies. [Emporia, KS: Emporia State University]
  • 4. Beckwith, Stephen L. 1954. Ecological succession on abandoned farm lands and its relationship to wildlife management. Ecological Monographs. 24(4): 349-376. [4129]
  • 7. Boyd, Robert C. 1986. Habitat requirements for cottontail rabbits on the Delaware Wildlife Area. Final Report: Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Project W-103-R-25 through R-28, Study 20 (1 July 1981 through 30 June 1985). Columbus, OH: Ohio Department of Natual Resources, Division of Wildlife. 63 p. [24911]
  • 9. Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Edwards, William R. 1982. Cottontails: Sylvilagus floridanus and allies. In: Chapman, Joseph A.; Feldhamer, George A., eds. Wild mammals of North America. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Univeristy Press: 83-123. [25231]
  • 14. Crouch, Glenn L. 1982. Wildlife on ungrazed and grazed bottomlands on the South Platte River, northeastern Colorado. In: Wildlife and livestock relationships: Proceedings of the symposium; 1981; Coeur D'Alene, ID. Moscow, ID: University of Idaho, Forest, Wildlife, and Range Experiment Station: 186-197. [24056]
  • 25. Giuliano, William M. 1990. Food habits, habitat utilization, and abundance of the eastern cottontail rabbit in Kentucky. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire. 78 p. Thesis. [24912]
  • 27. Godin, Alfred J. 1977. Wild mammals of New England. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. 304 p. [25150]
  • 34. Hon, Tip. 1981. Effects of prescribed fire on furbearers in the South. In: Wood, Gene W., ed. Prescribed fire and wildlife in southern forests: Proceedings of a symposium; 1981 April 6-8; Myrtle Beach, SC. Georgetown, SC: Clemson University, Belle W. Baruch Forest Science Institute: 121-128. [14818]
  • 43. McDonough, James J. 1960. The cottontail in Massachusetts. Boston, MA: Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Game. 22 p. [25131]
  • 44. McKeever, Sturgis. 1959. Relative abundance of twelve southeastern mammals in six vegetative types. American Midland Naturalist. 62: 222-226. [25166]
  • 46. Morgan, Kevin A.; Gates, J. Edward. 1983. Use of forest edge and strip vegetation by eastern cottontails. Journal of Wildlife Management. 47(1): 259-264. [25172]
  • 50. Reynolds, Richard T.; Graham, Russell T.; Reiser, M. Hildegard; [and others]
  • 53. Sharps, Jon C.; Uresk, Daniel W. 1990. Ecological review of black-tailed prairie dogs and associated species in western South Dakota. Great Basin Naturalist. 50(4): 339-344. [14895]
  • 58. Swihart, Robert K.; Yahner, Richard H. 1982. Eastern cottontail use of fragmented farmland habitat. Acta Theriologica. 27(9): 257-273. [25173]
  • 61. Trent, Tracey T.; Rongstad, Orrin J. 1974. Home range and survival of cottontail rabbits in southwestern Wisconsin. Journal of Wildlife Management. 38(3): 459-472. [25217]
  • 17. DeGraaf, Richard M.; Yamasaki, Mariko. 1986. New England wildlife: habitat, natural history, and distribution. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-108. Broomall, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 491 p. [21386]

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Associated Plant Communities

More info for the terms: cover, hardwood, natural, swamp

The eastern cottontail uses the broadest range of habitats of any
cottontail (Sylvilagus spp.) [48]. Eastern cottontails typically occupy
fields, farms, and woodlands. Historically eastern cottontails were
associated with natural glades and woodlands, prairies, swamps, deserts,
hardwood forests, temperate rainforests, and boreal forests [10,48].

In New York eastern cottontails occur in pitch pine (Pinus rigida)-white
oak (Quercus alba)-scarlet oak (Q. coccinea)-black oak (Q. velutina)
woodlands with black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata) and lowbush
blueberry (Vaccinium vacillans) in the understory [49].

Eastern cottontails preferred prairie-eastern redcedar (Juniperus
virginiana) and blackjack oak (Q. marilandica)-post oak (Q.
stellata)-prairie ecotone habitats over other types in the Oklahoma
Cross Timbers. Mature hardwood overstory and mixed-brush habitats were
avoided [41]. In central Arizona eastern cottontails are present in
ponderosa pine (P. ponderoas)-Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)-white
fir (Abies concolor) communities, with alligator juniper (Juniperus
deppeana) and Gambel oak (Q. gambelii) [13].

In Texas eastern cottontails occur in the Big Bend area in communities
dominated by creosotebush (Larrea tridentata), prickly pear (Opuntia
spp.), tarbush (Flourensia cernua), mesquites (Prosopis spp.), and
ocotillo (Fouqueria splendens) [18].

Eastern cottontails are present in the Great Dismal Swamp, North
Carolina, in mixed hardwood forests dominated by red maple (Acer
rubrum), black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), oaks (Quercus spp.), slash pine
(Pinus elliottii), and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua); and in swamps
dominated by baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) and water tupelo (Nyssa
aquatica), or Atlantic white-cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides) [29].

In Alabama eastern cottontails are found in woodlands dominated by
shortleaf pine (P. echinata), southern red oak (Quercus falcata),
sweetgum, yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), and other oaks and
hickories (Carya spp.). Understory species include broomsedge
(Andropogon virginicus), panicums (Panicum spp.), other grasses,
sassafras (Sassafras albidum), and seedlings of overstory trees.
Eastern cottontails are also found in fields including alfalfa (Medicago
sativa), bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum), white clover (Trifolium incana),
and dallisgrass (Paspalus dilatatum) [57].

Southwestern ponderosa pine forest: Cottontails including eastern
cottontail occur in minor populations in southwestern ponderosa pine
forests; this scarcity may be due to lack of surface cover [12].
  • 10. Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Ojeda C., Magaly M. 1980. Sylvilagus floridanus. Mammalian Species. 136: 1-8. [25167]
  • 12. Clary, Warren P. 1987. Overview of ponderosa pine bunchgrass ecology and wildlife habitat enhancement with emphasis on southwestern United States. In: Fisser, Herbert G., ed. Wyoming shrublands: Proceedings, 16th Wyoming shrub ecology workshop; 1987 May 26-27; Sundance, WY. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming, Department of Range Management, Wyoming Shrub Ecology Workshop: 11-21. [13913]
  • 13. Costa, Ralph; Ffolliott, Peter F.; Patton, David R. 1976. Cottontail responses to forest management in southwestern ponderosa pine. Res. Note RM-330. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 4 p. [18450]
  • 18. Denyes, H. Arliss. 1956. Natural terrestrial communities of Brewster County, Texas, with special reference to the distribution of the mammals. American Midland Naturalist. 55(2): 289-320. [10862]
  • 29. Hellgren, Eric C.; Vaughan, Michael R. 1988. Seasonal food habits of black bears in Great Dismal Swamp, Virginia - North Carolina. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. 42: 295-305. [19221]
  • 41. Lochmiller, R. L.; Boggs, J. F.; McMurry, S. T.; [and others]
  • 48. Nowak, Ronald M.; Paradiso, John L. 1983. Walker's mammals of the world. 4th edition. 4th edition. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. 568 p. [25151]
  • 49. Reiners, W. A. 1965. Ecology of a heath-shrub synusia in the pine barrens of Long Island, New York. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 92(6): 448-464. [22835]
  • 57. Stribling, H. L.; Speake, D. W. 1991. Responses of bobwhite quail and eastern cottontail rabbit populations to prescribed burning, cover enhancement, and food plots. Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program. Final Project Report. W-44. October 1, 1986 to September 30, 1991. Auburn, AL: Auburn Univeristy; Montgomery, AL: Alabama Game and Fish Division. 44 p. [25029]

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Habitat: Rangeland Cover Types

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This species is known to occur in association with the following Rangeland Cover Types (as classified by the Society for Range Management, SRM):

More info for the terms: association, forb, hardwood, shrub

107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
203 Riparian woodland
210 Bitterbrush
211 Creosotebush scrub
409 Tall forb
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
422 Riparian
502 Grama-galleta
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
505 Grama-tobosa shrub
509 Transition between oak-juniper woodland and mahogany-oak association
731 Cross timbers-Oklahoma
732 Cross timbers-Texas (little bluestem-post oak)
733 Juniper-oak
801 Savanna
804 Tall fescue
805 Riparian
810 Longleaf pine-turkey oak hills
811 South Florida flatwoods
812 North Florida flatwoods
813 Cutthroat seeps
814 Cabbage palm flatwoods
815 Upland hardwood hammocks
816 Cabbage palm hammocks
817 Oak hammocks
820 Everglades flatwoods

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Habitat: Cover Types

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):

1 Jack pine
14 Northern pin oak
15 Red pine
16 Aspen
17 Pin cherry
18 Paper birch
19 Gray birch-red maple
20 White pine-northern red oak-red maple
21 Eastern white pine
22 White pine-hemlock
23 Eastern hemlock
24 Hemlock-yellow birch
25 Sugar maple-beech-yellow birch
26 Sugar maple-basswood
27 Sugar maple
28 Black cherry-maple
35 Paper birch-red spruce-balsam fir
40 Post oak-blackjack oak
42 Bur oak
43 Bear oak
44 Chestnut oak
45 Pitch pine
46 Eastern redcedar
50 Black locust
51 White pine-chestnut oak
52 White oak-black oak-northern red oak
53 White oak
55 Northern red oak
57 Yellow-poplar
58 Yellow-poplar-eastern hemlock
59 Yellow-poplar-white oak-northern red oak
60 Beech-sugar maple
61 River birch-sycamore
62 Silver maple-American elm
63 Cottonwood
64 Sassafras-persimmon
67 Mohrs (shin) oak
68 Mesquite
69 Sand pine
70 Longleaf pine
71 Longleaf pine-scrub oak
72 Southern scrub oak
74 Cabbage palmetto
75 Shortleaf pine
76 Shortleaf pine-oak
80 Loblolly pine-shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
82 Loblolly pine-hardwood
83 Longleaf pine-slash pine
84 Slash pine
87 Sweetgum-yellow-poplar
88 Willow oak-water oak-diamondleaf oak
89 Live oak
97 Atlantic white-cedar
101 Baldcypress
109 Hawthorn
110 Black oak
111 South Florida slash pine
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
238 Western juniper
239 Pinyon-juniper
237 Interior ponderosa pine
240 Arizona cypress
241 Western live oak
242 Mesquite

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Habitat: Plant Associations

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):

More info for the terms: bog, shrub

K005 Mixed conifer forest
K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K019 Arizona pine forest
K022 Great Basin pine forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K027 Mesquite bosque
K032 Transition between K031 and K037
K041 Creosotebush
K042 Creosotebush-bursage
K044 Creosotebush-tarbush
K045 Ceniza shrub
K058 Grama-tobosa shrubsteppe
K059 Trans-Pecos shrub savanna
K060 Mesquite savanna
K064 Grama-needlegrass-wheatgrass
K065 Grama-buffalograss
K066 Wheatgrass-needlegrass
K067 Wheatgrass-bluestem-needlegrass
K068 Wheatgrass-grama-buffalograss
K069 Bluestem-grama prairie
K070 Sandsage-bluestem prairie
K074 Bluestem prairie
K075 Nebraska Sandhills prairie
K076 Blackland prairie
K077 Bluestem-sacahuista prairie
K081 Oak savanna
K083 Cedar glades
K086 Juniper-oak savanna
K088 Fayette prairie
K093 Great Lakes spruce-fir forest
K094 Conifer bog
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K096 Northeastern spruce-fir forest
K097 Southeastern spruce-fir forest
K099 Maple-basswood forest
K102 Beech-maple forest
K103 Mixed mesophytic forest
K104 Appalachian oak forest
K105 Mangrove
K107 Northern hardwoods-fir forest
K108 Northern hardwoods-spruce forest
K110 Northeastern oak-pine forest
K111 Oak-hickory-pine forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
K113 Southern floodplain forest
K114 Pocosin
K115 Sand pine scrub

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Habitat: Ecosystem

More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):

FRES10 White-red-jack pine
FRES11 Spruce-fir
FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak-pine
FRES15 Oak-hickory
FRES16 Oak-gum-cypress
FRES17 Elm-ash-cottonwood
FRES18 Maple-beech-birch
FRES19 Aspen-birch
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES32 Texas savanna
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES39 Prairie

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Historically, the eastern cottontail inhabited deserts, swamps and hardwood forests, as well as rainforests and boreal forests. Currently, the eastern cottontail prefers edge environments between woody vegetation and open land. Its range of habitats includes meadows, orchards, farmlands, hedgerows and areas with second growth shrubs, vines and low deciduous trees. The eastern cottontail occurs sympatrically with many other leporids, including six species of Sylvilagus and six species of Lepus.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: In summer, depends on grasses and herbs. In winter, eats seedlings, bark, twigs, and buds.

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Food Habits

Eastern cottontails are herbivores. Most of their diet consists of grass. In the summer they also eat wild strawberries, clover, and garden vegetables. In the winter they will eat twigs and bark of trees. In order to get all of the nutrition out of these plants, eastern cottontails will eat their own feces to have a second chance to absorb the nutrients.

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Food Habits

The diet of eastern cottontails is varied and largely dependent on
availability. Eastern cottontails eat vegetation almost exclusively;
arthropods have occasionally been found in pellets [15]. Some studies
list as many as 70 [15], 100 [16], or 145 plant species [39] in local
diets. Food items include bark, twigs, leaves, fruit, buds, flowers,
grass seeds, sedge fruits, and rush seeds. Numerous studies of local
eastern cottontail diet are summarized by Chapman and others [9]. There
is a preference for small material: branches, twigs, and stems up to
0.25 inch (0.6 cm) [26]. Leporids including eastern cottontails are
coprophagus, producing two types of fecal pellets one of which is
consumed. The redigestion of pellets greatly increases the nutritional
value of dietary items [9,17,48].

Summer Diet: Eastern cottontails consume tender green herbaceous
vegetation when it is available. In many areas Kentucky bluegrass (Poa
pratense) and Canada bluegrass (P. compressa) are important dietary
components [10,39]. Other favored species include clovers (Trifolium
spp.) and crabgrasses (Digitaria spp.) [34]. In Connecticut important
summer foods include clovers, alfalfa, timothy (Phleum pratense),
bluegrasses (Poa spp.), quackgrass (Elytrigia repens), crabgrasses,
redtop (Agrostis alba), ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya), goldenrods
(Solidago spp.), plantains (Plantago spp.), chickweed (Stellaria media),
and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Eastern cottontails also consume
many domestic crops [27].

Fall, Winter, and Early Spring Diet: During the dormant season, or when
green vegetation is covered with snow, eastern cottontails consume
twigs, buds, and bark of woody vegetation [34]. In Connecticut
important winter foods include gray birch (Betula populifolia), red
maple, and smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) [15].
  • 9. Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Edwards, William R. 1982. Cottontails: Sylvilagus floridanus and allies. In: Chapman, Joseph A.; Feldhamer, George A., eds. Wild mammals of North America. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Univeristy Press: 83-123. [25231]
  • 10. Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Ojeda C., Magaly M. 1980. Sylvilagus floridanus. Mammalian Species. 136: 1-8. [25167]
  • 15. Dalke, Paul D.; Sime, Palmer R. 1941. Food habits of the eastern and New England cottontails. Journal of Wildlife Management. 5: 216-228. [25169]
  • 16. DeCalesta, David S. 1971. A literature review on cottontail feeding habits. Special Report No. 25. Denver, CO: Colorado Division of Game, Fish and Parks. 15 p. [25237]
  • 26. Giusti, Gregory A.; Schmidt, Robert H.; Timm, Robert M.; [and others]
  • 27. Godin, Alfred J. 1977. Wild mammals of New England. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. 304 p. [25150]
  • 34. Hon, Tip. 1981. Effects of prescribed fire on furbearers in the South. In: Wood, Gene W., ed. Prescribed fire and wildlife in southern forests: Proceedings of a symposium; 1981 April 6-8; Myrtle Beach, SC. Georgetown, SC: Clemson University, Belle W. Baruch Forest Science Institute: 121-128. [14818]
  • 39. Korschgen, Leroy J. 1980. Food and nutrition of cottontail rabbits in Missouri. Terrestrial Series #6. Jefferson City, MO: Missouri Department of Conservation. 16 p. [25171]
  • 48. Nowak, Ronald M.; Paradiso, John L. 1983. Walker's mammals of the world. 4th edition. 4th edition. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. 568 p. [25151]
  • 17. DeGraaf, Richard M.; Yamasaki, Mariko. 1986. New England wildlife: habitat, natural history, and distribution. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-108. Broomall, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 491 p. [21386]

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Food Habits

The eastern cottontail is a vegetarian, with the majority of its diet made up of complex carbohydrates and cellulose. The digestion of these substances is made possible by caecal fermentation. The cottontail must reingest fecal pellets to reabsorb nutrients from its food after this process. Their diet varies between seasons due to availability. In the summer, green plants are favored. About 50% of the cottontail's intake is grasses, including bluegrass and wild rye. Other summer favorites are wild strawberry, clover and garden vegtables. In the winter, the cottontail subsists on woody plant parts, including the twigs, bark and buds of oak, dogwood, sumac, maple and birch. As the snow accumulates, cottontails have access to the higher trunk and branches. Feeding activity peaks 2-3 hours after dawn and the hour after sunset.

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Lignivore)

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Associations

Predation

Eastern cottontails can escape predators with their fast, jumping form of locomotion. They can run at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour. They will either flush, freeze, or slink to escape danger. Flushing is a fast, zig-zag dash to an area of cover. Slinking is moving low to the ground with the ears laid back to avoid detection. Freezing is simply remaining motionless.

Known Predators:

  • hawks (Accipitridae)
  • owls (Strigiformes)
  • red foxes (Vulpes_vulpes)
  • coyotes (Canis_latrans)
  • weasels (Mustela)
  • humans (Homo_sapiens)

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Predators

Major predators of eastern cottontail include domestic dog (Canis
familiaris), foxes (Vulpes and Urocyon spp.), coyote (C. latrans),
bobcat (Lynx rufus), domestic cat (Felis cattus), weasels (Mustela
spp.), raccoon (Procyon lotor), mink (M. vison), great horned owl (Bubo
virginianus), barred owl (Strix varia), hawks (Falconiformes), corvids
(Corvidae), and snakes [26,27]. In the Southwest cottontails including
eastern cottontail comprise 7 to 25 percent of the diets of northern
goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) [50]. In Texas eastern cottontails are
preyed on by coyotes more heavily in early spring and in fall than in
summer or winter [2]. In southwestern North Dakota cottontails (both
eastern and desert cottontail [Sylvilagus auduboni]) were major prey
items in the diets of bobcats [62].

Predators that take nestlings include raccoon, badger (Taxidea taxus),
skunks (Mephitis and Spilogale spp.), and Virginia opossum (Didelphis
marsupialis) [52]. In central Missouri eastern cottontails comprised
the majority of biomass in the diet of red-tailed hawks (Buteo
jamaicensis) during the nesting season [60]. In Pennsylvania the chief
predator of eastern cottontails is the great horned owl [52].

Juvenile eastern cottontails are rare in the diet of short-eared owls
(Asio flammeus) [33]. Trace amounts of eastern cottontail remains have
been detected in black bear (Ursus americanus) scat [29].
  • 2. Andelt, William F.; Kie, John G.; Knowlton, Frederick F.; Cardwell, Dean. 1987. Variation in coyote diets associated with season and successional changes in vegetation. Journal of Wildlife Management. 51(2): 273-277. [19860]
  • 26. Giusti, Gregory A.; Schmidt, Robert H.; Timm, Robert M.; [and others]
  • 27. Godin, Alfred J. 1977. Wild mammals of New England. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. 304 p. [25150]
  • 29. Hellgren, Eric C.; Vaughan, Michael R. 1988. Seasonal food habits of black bears in Great Dismal Swamp, Virginia - North Carolina. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. 42: 295-305. [19221]
  • 33. Holt, Denver W. 1993. Trophic niche of nearctic short-eared owls. Wilson Bulletin. 105(3): 497-503. [23537]
  • 50. Reynolds, Richard T.; Graham, Russell T.; Reiser, M. Hildegard; [and others]
  • 52. Rue, Leonard Lee, III. 1965. Cottontail. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company. 112 p. [25149]
  • 60. Toland, Brian R. 1990. Nesting ecology of red-tailed hawks in central Missouri. Transactions, Missouri Academy of Science. 24: 1-16. [22703]
  • 62. Trevor, John T.; Seabloom, Robert W.; Allen, Stephen H. 1989. Food habits in relation to sex and age of bobcats from southwestern North Dakota. Prairie Naturalist. 21(3): 163-168. [19877]

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Predation

Eastern cottontails can escape predators with their fast, jumping form of locomotion. They can run at speeds of up to 18 miles per hour. They will either flush, freeze, or slink to escape danger. Flushing is a fast, zig-zag dash to an area of cover. Slinking is moving low to the ground with the ears laid back to avoid detection. Freezing is simply remaining motionless.

Known Predators:

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Known predators

Sylvilagus floridanus is prey of:
Strigiformes
Accipitridae
Mustela
Homo sapiens
Canis latrans
Vulpes vulpes

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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General Ecology

In Wisconsin, home range varied from less than 0.4 ha to a little more than 1 ha; home range size was maximal during first winter; fall densities were 10/ha (Trent and Rungstad 1974). In Pennsylvania, annual female home range averaged about 2 ha; male range was similar except in spring and summer when it increased to average of 7-8 ha; little or no overlap of home ranges of females (Althoff and Storm 1989). Post-reproductive density was up to 27-28 per ha in Texas.

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Habitat-related Fire Effects

More info for the terms: cover, density, fuel, low-severity fire, prescribed fire, shrub

Fire's effects on habitat depend on fire characteristics. Soils lose
fewer nutrients in low-severity fire than in severe fire. Severe fire
volatilizes nutrients and occasionally decreases wettability of the soil
surface. Low-severity fire increases herb diversity and stimulates
growth, particularly among native legumes. Improved nutritional levels
in forage species have been reported after fire. Soil fertilization may
increase eastern cottontail ovulation rates [32].

In southeastern Illinois tallgrass prairie eastern cottontails preferred
3-year postfire communities that had not been mowed over unburned plots
and 3-year postfire plots that had been mowed [64]. In south-central
Iowa prescribed fires resulted in declines in eastern cottontail habitat
quality during the first few postfire months, but habitat quality
improved thereafter until it met or exceeded prefire levels [24].

In Oklahoma Cross Timbers habitats, pastures (some in post oak-blackjack
oak stands) were treated with herbicides (two types) in 1983 to control
shrubs, then burned in 1985 to maintain shrub control. There was a
gradual decline in eastern cottontail populations on all treatments
which was attributed to population cyclicity. However, eastern
cottontail density was higher on herbicide-only treated pastures and on
herbicide-burned pastures than on plots that were not treated with
herbicide and not burned. The herbicide treatments reduced shrub height
but increased stem density. Fire encouraged the growth of herbaceous
plants. The authors concluded that herbicide with or without fire has
no adverse impacts on resident eastern cottontail populations, and that
treatment areas had more preferred habitat than control areas [41].

In Alabama shortleaf pine-hardwood woodlands eastern cottontail
populations were similar on annually and biennially burned plots.
Annually burned plots usually had little fuel and thus experienced
low-severity fire that burned less than 50 percent of aboveground
vegetation. On biennially burned plots fuels were plentiful and
supported severe fire that removed all herbaceous vegetation. Eastern
cottontails chose artificial brushpiles more frequently on biennially
burned plots than on annually burned plots in immediate postfire
periods. Eastern cottontails moved off of severe fire plots during the
immediate postfire period [36,57].

In Florida cattle ranges in slash pine-palmetto flatwoods are maintained
in open condition by frequent prescribed fire. Eastern cottontails use
saw-palmetto patches for cover and saw-palmetto is encouraged by
frequent fire [38].
  • 24. George, Ronnie R.; Farris, Allen L.; Schwartz, Charles C.; [and others]
  • 32. Hill, Edward P. 1981. Prescribed fire and rabbits in southern forests. In: Wood, Gene W., ed. Prescribed fire and wildlife in southern forests: Proceedings of a symposium; 1981 April 6-8; Myrtle Beach, SC. Georgetown, SC: Clemson University, Belle W. Baruch Forest Science Institute: 103-108. [14816]
  • 36. King, Sammy L.; Stribling, H. Lee; Speake, Dan. 1991. Cottontail rabbit initial responses to prescribed burning and cover enhancement. Journal of the Alabama Academy of Science. 62(3): 178-188. [25170]
  • 38. Komarek, Roy. 1963. Fire and the changing wildlife habitat. In: Proceedings, 2nd annual Tall Timbers fire ecology conference; 1963 March 14-15; Tallahassee, FL. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research Station: 35-43. [13532]
  • 41. Lochmiller, R. L.; Boggs, J. F.; McMurry, S. T.; [and others]
  • 57. Stribling, H. L.; Speake, D. W. 1991. Responses of bobwhite quail and eastern cottontail rabbit populations to prescribed burning, cover enhancement, and food plots. Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program. Final Project Report. W-44. October 1, 1986 to September 30, 1991. Auburn, AL: Auburn Univeristy; Montgomery, AL: Alabama Game and Fish Division. 44 p. [25029]
  • 64. Westemeier, Ronald L.; Buhnerkempe, John E. 1983. Responses of nesting wildlife to prairie grass management on prairie chicken sanctuaries in Illinois. In: Brewer, Richard, ed. Proceedings, 8th North American prairie conference; 1982 August 1-4; Kalamazoo, MI. Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, Department of Biology: 39-46. [3120]

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Timing of Major Life History Events

More info for the terms: cover, crepuscular, litter

Diurnal Activity: Eastern cottontails are crepuscular to nocturnal
feeders; although they usually spend most of the daylight hours resting
in shallow depressions under vegetative cover or other shelter; they
can be seen at any time of day [17,48]. Eastern cottontails are most
active when visibility is limited, such as rainy or foggy nights [27].
Eastern cottontails usually move only short distances, and they may
remain sitting very still for up to 15 minutes at a time [48].

Eastern cottontails are active year-round [48].

Breeding Season: The onset of breeding varies between populations and
within populations from year to year. The eastern cottontail breeding
season begins later with higher latitudes and elevations. Temperature
rather than diet has been suggested as a primary factor controlling
onset of breeding; many studies correlate severe weather with delays in
the onset of breeding [10]. In New England breeding occurs from March
to September [17]. In New York the breeding season occurs from February
to September, in Connecticut from mid-March to mid-September. In
Alabama the breeding season begins in January. In Georgia the breeding
season lasts 9 months and in Texas breeding occurs year-round [10,48].
Populations in western Oregon breed from late January to early September
[10]. Mating is promiscuous [27].

Gestation and Development of Young: The nest is a slanting hole dug in
soft soil and lined with vegetation and fur. The average measurements
are: length 7.09 inches (18.03 cm), width 4.9 inches (12.57 cm), and
depth 4.71 inches (11.94 cm) [9]. The average period of gestation is
28 days, ranging from 25 to 35 days [48]. Eastern cottontail young are
born with a very fine coat of hair and are blind. Their eyes begin to
open by 4 to 7 days. Young begin to move out of the nest for short
trips by 12 to 16 days and are completely weaned and independent by 4
to 5 weeks [9,48,63]. Litters disperse at about 7 weeks [17]. Females
do not stay in the nest with the young but return to the opening of the
nest to nurse, usually twice a day [48,63].

Reproductive Potential: Reproductive maturity occurs at about 2 to 3
months of age. A majority of females first breed the spring following
birth [17]; but 10 to 36 percent of females breed as juveniles (i.e.,
summer of the year they were born) [52]. A typical litter in New
England is four or five young, ranging from three to eight [17]. In
Maryland the average litter size is 5.01 young, and ranges from 1 to 12.
In the South female eastern cottontails have more litters per year (up
to 7) but fewer young per litter [10,48]. In New England female eastern
cottontails have three or four litters per year [17]. The annual
productivity of females may be as high as 35 young [48]. Mammalian life
tables were compiled by Millar and Zammuto [45] and include eastern
cottontail data. Wainright [63] reviewed the literature on eastern
cottontail reproduction.

Mortality/Survivorship: In Kansas the largest cause of mortality of
radiotracked eastern cottontails was predation (43%), followed by
research mortalities (19%), and tularemia (18%) [3]. A major cause of
eastern cottontail mortality is collision with automobiles. In Missouri
it was estimated that 10 eastern cottontails are killed annually per
mile of road. The peak period of highway mortality is in spring (March
through May); roadside vegetation greens up before adjacent fields and
is highly attractive to eastern cottontails [52].

Annual adult survival is estimated at 20 percent. Average longevity is
15 months in the wild; the longest lived wild individual on record was 5
years old. Captive eastern cottontails have lived to at least 9 years
of age [48].

Diseases and Pests: Eastern cottontails are hosts to fleas, ticks, lice,
cestodes, nematodes, trematodes, gray flesh fly larvae, botfly larvae,
tularemia, shopes fibroma, torticollis, and streptothricosis cutaneous
[27]. Further summary of diseases and pests is available [9].
  • 3. Baker, Rhonda J.; Gress, Robert J.; Spencer, Dwight L. 1983. Mortality and population density of cottontail rabbits at Ross Natural History Reservation, Lyon County, Kansas. Emporia State Research Studies. [Emporia, KS: Emporia State University]
  • 9. Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Edwards, William R. 1982. Cottontails: Sylvilagus floridanus and allies. In: Chapman, Joseph A.; Feldhamer, George A., eds. Wild mammals of North America. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Univeristy Press: 83-123. [25231]
  • 10. Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Ojeda C., Magaly M. 1980. Sylvilagus floridanus. Mammalian Species. 136: 1-8. [25167]
  • 27. Godin, Alfred J. 1977. Wild mammals of New England. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. 304 p. [25150]
  • 45. Millar, John S.; Zammuto, Richard M. 1983. Life histories of mammals: an analysis of life tables. Ecology. 64(4): 631-635. [13577]
  • 48. Nowak, Ronald M.; Paradiso, John L. 1983. Walker's mammals of the world. 4th edition. 4th edition. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. 568 p. [25151]
  • 52. Rue, Leonard Lee, III. 1965. Cottontail. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company. 112 p. [25149]
  • 63. Wainright, Larry C. 1969. A literature review on cottontail reproduction. Specieal Report 19. Denver, CO: Colorado Department of Game, Fish and Parks. 24 p. [25174]
  • 17. DeGraaf, Richard M.; Yamasaki, Mariko. 1986. New England wildlife: habitat, natural history, and distribution. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-108. Broomall, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Forest Experiment Station. 491 p. [21386]

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Eastern cottontails have excellent vision, hearing, and sense of smell. Eastern cottontails make many sounds. They have cries of worry that are used to startle an enemy and warn others of danger. They grunt if predators approach a nesting female and her litter. They also make squeals during mating.

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Communication and Perception

Eastern cottontails have excellent vision, hearing, and sense of smell. Eastern cottontails make many sounds. They have cries of worry that are used to startle an enemy and warn others of danger. They grunt if predators approach a nesting female and her litter. They also make squeals during mating.

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Cyclicity

Comments: Mostly crepuscular. Two pronounced feeding periods: 3-4 hours after sunrise and from sunset to l hour after (Dalke 1941)

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Eastern cottontails are short-lived. Most do not survive beyond their third year.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
3.0 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
5.0 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
9.0 years.

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Lifespan/Longevity

Eastern cottontails are short-lived. Most do not survive beyond their third year.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
3.0 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
5.0 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
9.0 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 9.8 years (captivity) Observations: In the wild, these animals appear to live up to 5 years. In captivity, they have been reported to live more than 9 years (http://www.demogr.mpg.de/longevityrecords). One captive specimen lived 8.4 years at Tulsa Zoo (Richard Weigl 2005). There are anecdotal reports, which may be true, of one animal living 9.8 years in captivity (Steven Austad, pers. comm.). Other estimates suggest they may live over 10 years (Chapman et al. 1980), but this is unverified.
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Reproduction

Very prolific. Several litters of 3-6 produced throughout much of the year. In northern regions, young usually are not born until March. Gestation lasts about a month. Sexually mature in 2-3 months.

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Mating System: polygynous

Eastern cottontails usually breed from February until September. The exact time of breeding depends on the temperature, food, and light. These rabbits are able to begin breeding at 2 to 3 months old. Females can have anywhere from 1 to 7 litters per year but usually have 3 to 4. Litter size varies from 1 to 12 babies with an average of 5. Females are pregnant for 25 to 28 days before they give birth to their young. The babies are born without fur and blind. The babies usually weigh 25 to 35g at birth. Young open their eyes at 4 to 7 days old. They move out of the nest at 12 to 16 days old. They are independent at 4 to 5 weeks old.

Breeding interval: Does can have 1 to 7 litters in a year, but average 3 to 4.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs from February to September.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 12.

Average number of offspring: 5.

Range gestation period: 25 to 28 days.

Range weaning age: 16 to 22 days.

Range time to independence: 4 to 5 weeks.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 to 3 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 to 3 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 40 g.

Average number of offspring: 5.

Eastern cottontail females construct a nest in a protected place a few days before giving birth. They care for their young in the nest and nurse them until they are about 16 days old.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female)

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A mating pair performs an interesting ritual before copulation. This usually occurs after dark. The buck chases the doe until she eventually turns and faces him. She then spars at him with her forepaws. They crouch, facing each other, until one of the pair leaps about 2 feet in the air. This behavior is repeated by both animals before mating.

Mating System: polygynous

The beginning of reproductive activity in the eastern cottontail is related to the onset of the adult molt. Sexual maturity occurs around 2 to 3 months. An average of 25% of young are produced by juveniles (Banfield, 1981). Bucks are in breeding condition by mid-February and are active until September. Does are polyoestrus, with their first heat occurring in late February. The time of initial reproductive activity varies with latitude and elevation, occurring later at higher conditions of both. The onset of breeding is also controlled by temperature, availability of succulent vegetation and the change in photoperiod (Chapman et al., 1980). Does can have anywhere from 1 to 7 litters per year, but average 3 to 4. Gestation is typically between 25 and 28 days. A few days before the birth of her young, the doe prepares a grass and fur-lined nest. The nest is usually in a hollow beneath a shrub or a log or in tall grass. Litter size varies from 1 to 12 neonates with an average of 5. The newborns weigh 25 to 35 g, and are altricial; they are blind and naked. The young grow rapidly, initially about 2.5 g a day. Their eyes open around day 4 or 5, and they can leave the nest after about two weeks. The litter receives minimal care from their mother; they are nursed once or twice daily. Weaning occurs between 16 and 22 days. Litter mates become intolerant of each other and disperse at around seven weeks. The doe mates soon after her first litter, and she is often near the end of gestation as the current litter is leaving the nest.

Breeding interval: Does can have 1 to 7 litters in a year, but average 3 to 4.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs from February to September.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 12.

Average number of offspring: 5.

Range gestation period: 25 to 28 days.

Range weaning age: 16 to 22 days.

Range time to independence: 4 to 5 weeks.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 to 3 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 to 3 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 40 g.

Average number of offspring: 5.

Eastern cottontail females construct a nest in a protected place a few days before giving birth. They care for their young in the nest and nurse them until they are about 16 days old.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Sylvilagus floridanus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 24
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Barcode data: Sylvilagus floridanus

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 3 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.  Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.  See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

NNTCTATATCTGCTATTCGGGGCCTGAGCCGGAATGGTAGGCACCGCCCTTAGTCTACTTATTCGAGCAGAACTAGGTCAACCAGGGACCCTACTCGGAGACGATCAGATCTATAATGTAATCGTTACAGCACATGCCTTTGTAATAATTTTCTTTATAGTAATGCCTATTATGATTGGGGGATTTGGCAACTGACTAGTCCCCCTAATAATTGGAGCCCCTGACATAGCTTTTCCCCGAATAAACAACATAAGCTTTTGACTTCTCCCTCCGTCCTTTCTTCTCCTACTTGCTTCATCAATAGTAGAAGCCGGGGCGGGGACAGGCTGAACTGTTTACCCTCCCCTTGCTGGCAACCTAGCCCATGCAGGAGCATCAGTGGACTTAACTATTTTCTCTCTTCACTTAGCCGGAGTATCTTCCATCCTAGGGGCTATCAATTTTATTACAACAATTATTAATATAAAACCCCCTGCTATATCCCAGTATCAAACCCCTCTATTCGTATGATCCGTCCTCATCACAGCAGTACTTCTTCTGCTCTCATTACCAGTACTGGCCGCCGGCATCACAATACTCCTAACAGACCGTAATCTAAATACTACTTTCTTCGACCCAGCCGGAGGAGGGGACCCAATCCTTTNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
-- end --

Download FASTA File
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Mexican Association for Conservation and Study of Lagomorphs (AMCELA), Romero Malpica, F.J. & Rangel Cordero, H.

Reviewer/s
Smith, A.T. & Boyer, A.F. (Lagomorph Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
Sylvilagus floridanus is the most widely distributed species of Sylvilagus and is abundant throughout its range (Chapman et al. 1980). This species has been introduced in regions of North America and Europe, and is expanding its range by displacing other Leporids (Chapman and Ceballos 1990).
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Eastern cottontails are common throughout their range.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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Information on state- and province-level protection status of animals in the
United States and Canada is available at NatureServe, although recent
changes in status may not be included.

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Eastern cottontails are common throughout their range.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Population

Population
Sylvilagus floridanus is abundant and widespread, and is a highly effective colonizer. New populations of S. floridanus have been successfully introduced outside its range, and in some cases, S. floridanus has been known to displace native Leporids, including S. transitionalis (Chapman and Ceballos 1990). Peak densities have been recorded at eight to ten individuals per ha (Chapman and Ceballos 1990).

In Virginia, the population has declined over the past fifty years or so. This decline may be due to the loss of early successional habitat that is being turned into farmland and is exacerbated by an increase in the cottontail's predators. In most years, 80% or more of the adult cottontails are killed. However, in areas where there is good habitat there are still abundant populations (Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries).

Population Trend
Increasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Although abundant, subpopulations of Sylvilagus floridanus are at risk from hunting pressure (sport and local subsistence) throughout its range, human perturbation, and predation from invasive alien species. In some locations it is threatened by livestock competition and habitat fragmentation.
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Sylvilagus floridanus is the most important regulated game animal in the USA. While S. floridanus does not appear to be declining, it has spread and has been introduced widely outside its original range, where it sometimes presents a threat to sympatric species, such as S. transitionalis in north-eastern USA (Chapman and Ceballos 1990).

Research is needed regarding taxonomy, distribution, population size, and to determine how S. floridanus affects other species.
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Use of Fire in Population Management

More info for the terms: cover, frequency, prescribed fire, shrub

Prescribed fire is the most useful tool for enhancing eastern cottontail
habitat since it can be used to control the amount of brushy cover and
available forage [9]. In New York prescribed fire every third year in
shrub stands within pitch pine-oak woodlands maintains shrub cover
adequate for eastern cottontails [49].

In Pennsylvania manipulation of hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) and alder
(Alnus spp.) can be achieved with prescribed fire. Hawthorns are an
important food for eastern cottontails in the area, and can be
encouraged by periodic application of fire, since hawthorns sprout after
top-kill by fire [8].

In the Southeast pine woodlands are managed with frequent fire; eastern
cottontail habitat is usually at least adequate in managed pine stands.
Additional benefits of fire include reduction of eastern cottontail
parasites. Pine plantations are good eastern cottontail habitat for the
first five growing seasons after site preparation. They deteriorate
with increased canopy closure and do not improve until prescribed fire
(usually initiated in the ninth season) and/or thinning (usually
initiated in the fifteenth season) are implemented. To benefit eastern
cottontails, fire should be used at a frequency sufficient to maintain
open conditions and discourage broomsedge, but at long enough intervals
to retain some shrub cover and winter browse. There is a need to
balance annual fire, which increases summer forage, and longer-interval
fires to maintain shrubby areas. Prescribed fire for eastern cottontail
management therefore needs to be planned so as to leave patches of areas
in different postfire stages, with sufficient annual burn plots to
provide summer forage [32].
  • 8. Burgason, Barry N. 1976. Prescribed burning for management of hawthorn and alder. New York Fish and Game Journal. 23(2): 160-169. [14317]
  • 9. Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Edwards, William R. 1982. Cottontails: Sylvilagus floridanus and allies. In: Chapman, Joseph A.; Feldhamer, George A., eds. Wild mammals of North America. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Univeristy Press: 83-123. [25231]
  • 32. Hill, Edward P. 1981. Prescribed fire and rabbits in southern forests. In: Wood, Gene W., ed. Prescribed fire and wildlife in southern forests: Proceedings of a symposium; 1981 April 6-8; Myrtle Beach, SC. Georgetown, SC: Clemson University, Belle W. Baruch Forest Science Institute: 103-108. [14816]
  • 49. Reiners, W. A. 1965. Ecology of a heath-shrub synusia in the pine barrens of Long Island, New York. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 92(6): 448-464. [22835]

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Management Considerations

More info for the terms: cover, natural, prescribed fire, presence, shrub, tree

The eastern cottontail has major economic importance as a game species
for both meat and fur production; it is also of economic importance as
prey of furbearers (bobcat, coyote, foxes etc.) [25,34]. Since eastern
populations remain relatively stable they are an important prey item for
the endangered red wolf (Canis rufus) breeding population at Gulf
Islands National Seashore [55]. Eastern cottontails are potential prey
for the endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), particularly
in prairie dog (Cynomys spp.) colonies [31]. The eastern cottontail is
common in suburban to urban areas and is an economically important pest
there as well as in in farmlands and tree plantations [26,48].
Transplantation of eastern cottontail populations has had impacts on
other species; in New England the decline of the New England cottontail
(Sylvilagus transitionalis) has been attributed at least in part to
eastern cottontail introduction [9,48].

Population Status: In Illinois eastern cottontails increased in
abundance with agricultural development in the early postsettlement
period [42]. However, more recent changes in intensity of agriculture,
which have reduced the amount and size of areas of suitable habitat,
have contributed to a decline in eastern cottontail populations [1,25].
Reduced eastern cottontail numbers are associated with the decrease in
the number and size of individual farms and the amount of land devoted
to hay and oats because of increased emphasis on more valuable grains
[19]. Other changes include reductions in grasslands, reductions in
stream and river bottom forests and woodlots, and plowing of weedy and
brushy pastures [1,25]. In Illnois population indices for the period
1956 to 1978 indicate declines of at least 70 percent statewide, and 90
to 95 percent in intensively farmed areas [19]. In Ohio eastern
cottontail abundance declined by 70 percent from 1956 to 1983 in spite
of efforts to maintain populations [7]. In Kentucky conversion of
pastures to tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea) has reduced eastern
cottontail reproductive rates because of the presence of an unpalatable
endophytic fungus (Acremonium ceonophialum) associated with the tall
fescue [25]. Boyd [7] reviewed causes of eastern cottontail population
declines.

Pest Control: Lethal control methods (trapping, shooting) are expensive
and effective only in the short term. Nonlethal control methods are
also expensive but often effective. Exclosures and repellants are the
most effective methods to reduce damage by rabbits. Silvicultural
practices that reduce cover in and around plantations, particularly on
roadsides, are the most effective way to reduce rabbit damage [26].

Habitat management: In most areas eastern cottontail habitat can be
improved by the interspersion of old fields with briar thickets and
creation of edge by breaking up large areas of monocultures. Artificial
cover in the form of brush piles 13 to 20 feet (4-6 m) in diameter and 3
to 7 feet (1-2 m) high is effective for up to 5 years. Shrub plantings
should include thorny species that maintain a low, dense cover
resembling multiflora rose (multiflora rose is not recommended because
of its propensity to spread into other areas [10]). Prescribed fire can
be used to improve cover (see FIRE ECOLOGY AND MANAGEMENT) [1,9]. Any
activity that reduces cover, such as burning followed by grazing,
decreases habitat quality [1,10].

In southwestern ponderosa pine forests cottontail numbers can be
increased by management that encourages dense natural or artificial
regeneration, by the retention of piled slash, or by encouragement of
herbaceous and shrub growth after timber harvest [12,13]. In central
Louisiana eastern cottontails were present in longleaf pine (Pinus
palustris)-slash pine woodlands in slightly greater numbers in
regeneration stands than in sapling, sawtimber, or pole-size stands
[47]. In northern Georgia, forage biomass was greater on all
site-preparation treatments after timber harvest than on unlogged
control sites; harvested sites are potentially better habitat for
eastern cottontails, but eastern cottontails were not plentiful enough
on the site to distinguish between treatments [22]. Increased
cottontail numbers have been noted where clearcuts have increased cover
in the form of slash piles, increased production of herbaceous plants,
and Gambel oak sprouts. Numbers also increased in areas with dense
ponderosa pine reproduction around 4 to 5 feet tall (1.2-1.5 m) [12].
Only agricultural land that was within 300 feet (91.4 m) of a woodlot
was used by eastern cottontails in southwestern Wisconsin [61].

Food availability is typically not the most important consideration in
eastern cottontail management since it is not usually considered a
limiting factor. Eastern cottontails select suitable cover over
abundant food supply if cover and abundant food are not found together
[1]. Korschgen [39] asserted that placement of preferred food plants
near permanent cover improves eastern cottontail habitat and
productivity.
  • 1. Allen, A. W. 1984. Habitat suitability index models: eastern cottontail. FWS/OBS 0197-6087. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Biological Sciences, Western Energy Land Use Team. 23 p. [25164]
  • 7. Boyd, Robert C. 1986. Habitat requirements for cottontail rabbits on the Delaware Wildlife Area. Final Report: Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Project W-103-R-25 through R-28, Study 20 (1 July 1981 through 30 June 1985). Columbus, OH: Ohio Department of Natual Resources, Division of Wildlife. 63 p. [24911]
  • 9. Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Edwards, William R. 1982. Cottontails: Sylvilagus floridanus and allies. In: Chapman, Joseph A.; Feldhamer, George A., eds. Wild mammals of North America. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Univeristy Press: 83-123. [25231]
  • 10. Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Ojeda C., Magaly M. 1980. Sylvilagus floridanus. Mammalian Species. 136: 1-8. [25167]
  • 12. Clary, Warren P. 1987. Overview of ponderosa pine bunchgrass ecology and wildlife habitat enhancement with emphasis on southwestern United States. In: Fisser, Herbert G., ed. Wyoming shrublands: Proceedings, 16th Wyoming shrub ecology workshop; 1987 May 26-27; Sundance, WY. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming, Department of Range Management, Wyoming Shrub Ecology Workshop: 11-21. [13913]
  • 13. Costa, Ralph; Ffolliott, Peter F.; Patton, David R. 1976. Cottontail responses to forest management in southwestern ponderosa pine. Res. Note RM-330. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 4 p. [18450]
  • 19. Edwards, William R.; Havera, Stephen P.; Labisky, Ronald F.; [and others]
  • 22. Evans, Timothy L.; Waldrop, Thomas A.; Guynn, David C., Jr. 1991. Fell-and-burn regeneration in the North Georgia piedmont: effects on wildlife habitat and small mammals. Proceedings, Annual Conference of Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. 45: 104-114. [22279]
  • 25. Giuliano, William M. 1990. Food habits, habitat utilization, and abundance of the eastern cottontail rabbit in Kentucky. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire. 78 p. Thesis. [24912]
  • 26. Giusti, Gregory A.; Schmidt, Robert H.; Timm, Robert M.; [and others]
  • 31. Herman, Margaret; Willard, E. Earl. 1978. Black-footed ferret and its habitat. Missoula, MT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, National Forest System Cooperative Forestry, Forestry Research, Region 1. 24 p. [21527]
  • 34. Hon, Tip. 1981. Effects of prescribed fire on furbearers in the South. In: Wood, Gene W., ed. Prescribed fire and wildlife in southern forests: Proceedings of a symposium; 1981 April 6-8; Myrtle Beach, SC. Georgetown, SC: Clemson University, Belle W. Baruch Forest Science Institute: 121-128. [14818]
  • 39. Korschgen, Leroy J. 1980. Food and nutrition of cottontail rabbits in Missouri. Terrestrial Series #6. Jefferson City, MO: Missouri Department of Conservation. 16 p. [25171]
  • 42. Lord, Rexford D., Jr. 1963. The cottontail rabbit in Illinois. Technical Bulletin No. 3. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. 94 p. [25130]
  • 47. Mullin, Keith; Williams, Kenneth L. 1987. Mammals of longleaf-slash pine stands in central Louisiana. In: Pearson, Henry A.; Smeins, Fred E.; Thill, Ronald E., compilers. Proceedings of the southern evaluation project workshop; 1987 May 26-27; Long Beach, MS. Gen. Tech. Rep. SO-68. New Orleans, LA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Forest Experiment Station: 121-124. [12473]
  • 48. Nowak, Ronald M.; Paradiso, John L. 1983. Walker's mammals of the world. 4th edition. 4th edition. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. 568 p. [25151]
  • 55. Simons, Ted; Weller, John; Esher, Robert; Bradshaw, Dwight. 1991. Red wolves thrive at Gulf Islands. Park Science. 11(1): 6-7. [14538]
  • 61. Trent, Tracey T.; Rongstad, Orrin J. 1974. Home range and survival of cottontail rabbits in southwestern Wisconsin. Journal of Wildlife Management. 38(3): 459-472. [25217]

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Comments: Important game animal hunted for sport and meat.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Eastern cottontails cause a great deal of damage in their search for food. They are pests to gardeners and farmers in the summer. In addition, humans may contract the bacterial disease tularemia from handling the dead body of an infected cottontail.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease); crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Eastern cottontails are found in many places and are good to eat. Because of this, they are widely hunted. They are hunted for sport, meat, and fur.

Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Eastern cottontails cause a great deal of damage in their search for food. They are pests to gardeners and farmers in the summer. In the winter, they are a threat to the orchardist, forester and landscaper. In addition, humans may contract the bacterial disease tularemia from handling the carcass of an infected cottontail.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease); crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The eastern cottontail is abundant and edible, therefore making it a prominent game species. It is hunted for sport, meat, and fur.

Positive Impacts: food ; body parts are source of valuable material

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Wikipedia

Eastern cottontail

The eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) is a New World cottontail rabbit, a member of the family Leporidae. It is one of the most common rabbit species in North America.

Distribution[edit]

The eastern cottontail can be found in meadows and shrubby areas in the eastern and south-central United States, southern Canada, eastern Mexico, Central America and northernmost South America. It is abundant in Midwest North America, and has been found in New Mexico and Arizona. Its range expanded north as forests were cleared by settlers.[3] Originally, it was not found in New England, but it has been introduced there and now competes for habitat there with the native New England cottontail. It has also been introduced into parts of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.[4] In the mid-1960s, the Eastern cottontail was introduced to northern Italy, where it displayed a rapid territorial expansion and increase in population density.[5]

Habitat[edit]

Optimal eastern cottontail habitat includes open grassy areas, clearings, and old fields supporting abundant green grasses and herbs, with shrubs in the area or edges for cover.[6] The essential components of eastern cottontail habitat are an abundance of well-distributed escape cover (dense shrubs) interspersed with more open foraging areas such as grasslands and pastures.[7] Habitat parameters important for eastern cottontails in ponderosa pine, mixed species, and pinyon (Pinus spp.)-juniper (Juniperus spp.) woodlands include woody debris, herbaceous and shrubby understories, and patchiness. Typically eastern cottontails occupy habitats in and around farms including fields, pastures, open woods, thickets associated with fencerows, wooded thickets, forest edges, and suburban areas with adequate food and cover. They are also found in swamps and marshes and usually avoid dense woods. They are seldom found in deep woods.[3]

Home range[edit]

The eastern cottontail home range is roughly circular in uniform habitats. Eastern cottontails typically inhabit one home range throughout their lifetime, but home range shifts in response to vegetation changes and weather are common.[7] In New England eastern cottontail home ranges average 1.4 acres (0.57 ha) for adult males and 1.2 acres (0.48 ha) for adult females but vary in size from 0.5 acre to 40 acres (0.2–16.2 ha), depending on season, habitat quality, and individual. The largest ranges are occupied by adult males during the breeding season. In southwestern Wisconsin adult male home ranges averaged 6.9 acres (2.8 ha) in spring, increased to 10 acres (4.0 ha) in early summer, and decreased to 3.7 acres (1.5 ha) by late summer.[8] Daily activity is usually restricted to 10% to 20% of the overall home range.[7]

In southeastern Wisconsin home ranges of males overlapped by up to 50%, but female home ranges did not overlap by more than 25% and actual defense of range by females occurred only in the immediate area of the nest. Males fight each other to establish dominance hierarchy and mating priority.[8]

Cover requirements[edit]

Winter coat, Ottawa, Ontario

Eastern cottontails forage in open areas and use brush piles, stone walls with shrubs around them, herbaceous and shrubby plants, and burrows or dens for escape cover, shelter, and resting cover. Woody cover is extremely important for the survival and abundance of eastern cottontails.[7] Eastern cottontails do not dig their own dens (other than nest holes) but use burrows dug by other species such as woodchucks.[3] In winter when deciduous plants are bare eastern cottontails forage in less secure cover and travel greater distances.[7] Eastern cottontails probably use woody cover more during the winter, particularly in areas where cover is provided by herbaceous vegetation in summer.[9] In Florida slash pine flatwoods, eastern cottontails use low saw-palmetto (Serenoa repens) patches for cover within grassy areas.[10]

In nest, under production

Most nest holes are constructed in grasslands (including hayfields).[7] The nest is concealed in grasses or weeds. Nests are also constructed in thickets, orchards, and scrubby woods.[3] In southeastern Illinois tall-grass prairie, eastern cottontail nests were more common in undisturbed prairie grasses than in high-mowed or hayed plots. In Iowa most nests were within 70 yards (64.2 m) of brush cover in herbaceous vegetation at least 4 inches (10 cm) tall. Nests in hayfields were in vegetation less than 8 inches (20 cm) tall. Average depth of nest holes is 5 inches (12 cm), average width 5 inches (12.5 cm), and average length 7 inches (18 cm). The nest is lined with grass and fur.[9][11]

Description[edit]

The eastern cottontail is chunky red-brown or gray-brown in appearance with large hind feet, long ears and a short fluffy white tail. Its underside fur is white. There is a rusty patch on the tail. Its appearance differs from that of a hare in that it has a brownish-gray coloring around the head and neck. The body is lighter color with a white underside on the tail. It has large brown eyes and large ears to see and listen for danger. In winter the cottontail's pelage is more gray than brown. The kits develop the same coloring after a few weeks, but they also have a white blaze that goes down their forehead; this marking eventually disappears. This rabbit is medium-sized, measuring 36–48 cm (14–19 in) in total length, including a small tail that averages 5.3 cm (2.1 in).[12][13] Weight can range from 800 to 2,000 g (1.8 to 4.4 lb), with an average of around 1,200 g (2.6 lb). The female tends to be heavier, although the sexes broadly overlap in size.[14][15] There may be some slightly variation in the body size of Eastern cottontails, with weights seeming to increase from south to north, in accordance with Bergmann's rule. Adult specimens from the Florida Museum of Natural History, collected in Florida, have a mean weight of 1,018 g (2.244 lb).[16] Meanwhile, 346 adult cottontails from Michigan were found to have averaged 1,445 g (3.186 lb) in mass.[17]

Behavior[edit]

The eastern cottontail is a very territorial animal. When chased, it runs in a zigzag pattern, running up to 18 mph. The cottontail prefers an area where it can hide quickly but be out in the open. Forests, swamps, thickets, bushes, or open areas where shelter is close by are optimal habitation sites for this species. Cottontails do not dig burrows, but rather rest in a form, a shallow, scratched-out depression in a clump of grass or under brush. It may use the dens of groundhogs as a temporary home or during heavy snow.[18]

Eastern cottontails are crepuscular to nocturnal feeders; although they usually spend most of the daylight hours resting in shallow depressions under vegetative cover or other shelter; they can be seen at any time of day.[11] Eastern cottontails are most active when visibility is limited, such as rainy or foggy nights.[3] Eastern cottontails usually move only short distances, and they may remain sitting very still for up to 15 minutes at a time. Eastern cottontails are active year-round.[11]

Reproduction[edit]

Litter and nesting material
Kit (3 weeks old)
Juvenile, unknown age, showing white blaze on forehead

The onset of breeding varies between populations and within populations from year to year. The eastern cottontail breeding season begins later with higher latitudes and elevations. Temperature rather than diet has been suggested as a primary factor controlling onset of breeding; many studies correlate severe weather with delays in the onset of breeding.[19] In New England breeding occurs from March to September. In New York the breeding season occurs from February to September, in Connecticut from mid-March to mid-September. In Alabama the breeding season begins in January. In Georgia the breeding season lasts 9 months and in Texas breeding occurs year-round.[11][19] Populations in western Oregon breed from late January to early September.[19] Mating is promiscuous.[3]

The nest is a slanting hole dug in soft soil and lined with vegetation and fur. The average measurements are: length 7.09 inches (18.03 cm), width 4.9 inches (12.57 cm), and depth 4.71 inches (11.94 cm).[9] The average period of gestation is 28 days, ranging from 25 to 35 days.[11] Eastern cottontail young are born with a very fine coat of hair and are blind. Their eyes begin to open by 4 to 7 days. Young begin to move out of the nest for short trips by 12 to 16 days and are completely weaned and independent by 4 to 5 weeks.[9][20] Litters disperse at about 7 weeks. Females do not stay in the nest with the young but return to the opening of the nest to nurse, usually twice a day.[11][20]

Reproductive maturity occurs at about 2 to 3 months of age. A majority of females first breed the spring following birth; but 10% to 36% of females breed as juveniles (i.e., summer of the year they were born).[21] Males will mate with more than one female. Female rabbits can have 1 to 7 litters of 1 to 12 young, called kits, in a year; however, the average number of litters per year is 3–4 and the average number of kits is 5.[13] In the South female eastern cottontails have more litters per year (up to 7) but fewer young per litter.[11][19] In New England female eastern cottontails have three or four litters per year. The annual productivity of females may be as high as 35 young.[11][20]

Diet[edit]

The diet of eastern cottontails is varied and largely dependent on availability. Eastern cottontails eat vegetation almost exclusively; arthropods have occasionally been found in pellets.[22] Some studies list as many as 70[22] to 145 plant species in local diets. Food items include bark, twigs, leaves, fruit, buds, flowers, grass seeds, sedge fruits, and rush seeds.[9] There is a preference for small material: branches, twigs, and stems up to 0.25 inch (0.6 cm). Leporids including eastern cottontails are coprophagous, producing two types of fecal pellets one of which is consumed. The redigestion of pellets greatly increases the nutritional value of dietary items.[9][11]

In summer, eastern cottontails consume tender green herbaceous vegetation when it is available. In many areas Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratense) and Canada bluegrass (P. compressa) are important dietary components.[19] Other favored species include clovers (Trifolium spp.) and crabgrasses (Digitaria spp.).[6] In Connecticut important summer foods include clovers, alfalfa, timothy (Phleum pratense), bluegrasses (Poa spp.), quackgrass (Elytrigia repens), crabgrasses, redtop (Agrostis alba), ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya), goldenrods (Solidago spp.), plantains (Plantago spp.), chickweed (Stellaria media), and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Eastern cottontails also consume many domestic crops.[3]

During the dormant season, or when green vegetation is covered with snow, eastern cottontails consume twigs, buds, and bark of woody vegetation.[6] In Connecticut important winter foods include gray birch (Betula populifolia), red maple, and smooth sumac (Rhus glabra).[22]

Mortality[edit]

In Kansas the largest cause of mortality of radiotracked eastern cottontails was predation (43%), followed by research mortalities[clarification needed] (19%), and tularemia (18%). A major cause of eastern cottontail mortality is collision with automobiles. In Missouri it was estimated that 10 eastern cottontails are killed annually per mile of road. The peak period of highway mortality is in spring (March through May); roadside vegetation greens up before adjacent fields and is highly attractive to eastern cottontails.[21]

Annual adult survival is estimated at 20%. Average longevity is 15 months in the wild; the longest lived wild individual on record was 5 years old. Captive eastern cottontails have lived to at least 9 years of age.[11]

Eastern cottontails are hosts to fleas, ticks, lice, cestodes, nematodes, trematodes, gray flesh fly larvae, botfly larvae, tularemia, shopes fibroma, torticollis, and streptothricosis cutaneous.[3] Further summary of diseases and pests is available.[9]

Predators[edit]

The Eastern Cottontail has to contend with many predators, both natural and introduced. Due to their often large populations in Eastern North America, they form a major component of several predators' diets. Major predators of eastern cottontail include domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), foxes (Vulpes and Urocyon spp.), coyote (C. latrans), bobcat (Lynx rufus), domestic cat (Felis catus), weasels (Mustela spp.), raccoon (Procyon lotor), mink (M. vison), great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), barred owl (Strix varia), hawks (principally Buteo spp.), corvids (Corvus spp.), and snakes.[3]

Predators that take nestlings include raccoon, badger (Taxidea taxus), skunks (Mephitis and Spilogale spp.), and Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana).[21] In central Missouri eastern cottontails comprised the majority of biomass in the diet of red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) during the nesting season. In Pennsylvania the chief predator of eastern cottontails is the great horned owl.[21] In the Southwest cottontails including eastern cottontail comprise 7 to 25% of the diets of northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis). In Texas eastern cottontails are preyed on by coyotes more heavily in early spring and in fall than in summer or winter. In southwestern North Dakota cottontails (both eastern and desert cottontail Sylvilagus auduboni) were major prey items in the diets of bobcats.[23]

Juvenile eastern cottontails are rare in the diet of short-eared owls (Asio flammeus). Trace amounts of eastern cottontail remains have been detected in black bear (Ursus americanus) scat.[24]

Classification[edit]

Recognized subspecies of Sylvilagus floridanus[1]

  • North of Mexico
    • Sylvilagus floridanus alacer
    • Sylvilagus floridanus holzneri
    • Sylvilagus floridanus chapmani
    • Sylvilagus floridanus floridanus
    • Sylvilagus floridanus mallurus
  • Mexico and Central America
    • Sylvilagus floridanus aztecus
    • Sylvilagus floridanus connectens
    • Sylvilagus floridanus hondurensis
    • Sylvilagus floridanus macrocorpus
    • Sylvilagus floridanus orizabae
    • Sylvilagus floridanus yucatanicus
  • South of Isthmus of Panama
    • Sylvilagus floridanus avius
    • Sylvilagus floridanus cumanicus
    • Sylvilagus floridanus margaritae
    • Sylvilagus floridanus nigronuchalis
    • Sylvilagus floridanus orinoci
    • Sylvilagus floridanus purgatus
    • Sylvilagus floridanus superciliaris

References[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of Agriculture document "Sylvilagus floridanus".

  1. ^ a b Hoffman, R. S.; Smith, A. T. (2005). "Order Lagomorpha". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 209–210. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ Mexican Association for Conservation and Study of Lagomorphs (AMCELA), Romero Malpica, F.J. & Rangel Cordero, H. (2008). "Sylvilagus floridanus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Godin, Alfred J. (1977). Wild mammals of New England. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press
  4. ^ Reid, Fiona (2006). A Field Guide to Mammals of North America. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 
  5. ^ Silvano, Fabrizio; Acquarone, Camilla; Cucco, Marco (2000). "Distribution of the eastern cottontail Sylvilagus floridanus in the province of Alessandria". Hystrix 11: 75–78. 
  6. ^ a b c Hon, Tip. (1981). "Effects of prescribed fire on furbearers in the South", pp. 121–128 in: Wood, Gene W. (ed.) Prescribed fire and wildlife in southern forests: Proceedings of a symposium; 1981 April 6–8; Myrtle Beach, SC. Georgetown, SC: Clemson University, Belle W. Baruch Forest Science Institute
  7. ^ a b c d e f Allen, A. W. (1984). Habitat suitability index models: eastern cottontail. FWS/OBS 0197-6087. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Biological Sciences, Western Energy Land Use Team
  8. ^ a b Trent, Tracey T.; Rongstad, Orrin J (1974). "Home range and survival of cottontail rabbits in southwestern Wisconsin". Journal of Wildlife Management 38 (3): 459–472. doi:10.2307/3800877. JSTOR 3800877. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Edwards, William R. 1982. Cottontails: Sylvilagus floridanus and allies. In: Chapman, Joseph A.; Feldhamer, George A., eds. Wild mammals of North America. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press: 83–123
  10. ^ Komarek, Roy. (1963). "Fire and the changing wildlife habitat", pp. 35–43 in: Proceedings of 2nd annual Tall Timbers fire ecology conference; 1963 March 14–15; Tallahassee, FL. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research Station
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Nowak, Ronald M.; Paradiso, John L. (1983). Walker's mammals of the world. 4th edition. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press
  12. ^ GAWW: Species Description. Naturalhistory.uga.edu. Retrieved on 2012-12-20.
  13. ^ a b Mikita, K. (1999). Sylvilagus floridanus. Animal Diversity Web.
  14. ^ Elder, William H.; Lyle K. Sowls (1942). "Body Weight and Sex Ratio of Cottontail Rabbits". The Journal of Wildlife Management 6 (3): 203–207. doi:10.2307/3795902. JSTOR 3795902. 
  15. ^ Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus). Nsrl.ttu.edu. Retrieved on 2012-12-20.
  16. ^ "FLMNH Mammal Master Database- Sylvilagus flordianus". Florida Museum of Natural History. Retrieved 2014-01-22. 
  17. ^ Craighead, J.J. & Craighead, F.C. Hawks, Owls and Wildlife. Wildlife Management Institute (1956), ISBN 0-486-22123-7.
  18. ^ Merritt, Joseph E. (1987) Guide to the Mammals of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh Press, p. 123, ISBN 0822953935.
  19. ^ a b c d e Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Ojeda C., Magaly M (1980). "Sylvilagus floridanus". Mammalian Species 136 (136): 1–8. doi:10.2307/3504055. 
  20. ^ a b c Wainright, Larry C. (1969). "A literature review on cottontail reproduction". Special Report 19. Denver, CO: Colorado Department of Game, Fish and Parks
  21. ^ a b c d Rue, Leonard Lee, III. 1965. Cottontail. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company
  22. ^ a b c Dalke, Paul D.; Sime, Palmer R (1941). "Food habits of the eastern and New England cottontails". Journal of Wildlife Management 5 (2): 216–228. doi:10.2307/3795589. JSTOR 3795589. 
  23. ^ Trevor, John T.; Seabloom, Robert W.; Allen, Stephen H. (1989). "Food habits in relation to sex and age of bobcats from southwestern North Dakota". Prairie Naturalist 21 (3): 163–168. 
  24. ^ Hellgren, Eric C.; Vaughan, Michael R. (1988). "Seasonal food habits of black bears in Great Dismal Swamp, Virginia – North Carolina". Proceedings of the Annual Conference of Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. 42: 295–305

External references[edit]

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Based on a study of cranial, mandibular, and dental variation, Ruedas (1998) proposed that S. floridanus robustus of Trans-Pecos Texas be recognized as a distinct species, and he suggested that some other subspecies of S. floridanus (S. f. holzneri, S. f. cognatus) also may warrant recognition as separate species. Sylvilagus robustus has been treated as a species in the past but in recent decades generally has been included as a subspecies of S. floridanus. In this database, we follow the North American mammal checklist by Baker et al. (2003) in accepting S. robustus as a valid species. Additionally, following Hoffmann and Smith (in Wilson and Reeder 2005) we recognize S. cognatus of the Manzano Mountains, New Mexico, as a distinct species.

MtDNA data indicate that hybridization is not occurring between S. floridanus and S. transitionalis/obscurus (Litvaitis 1997).

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Common Names

eastern cottontail
cottontail rabbit
Florida cottontail

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The currently accepted scientific name for eastern cottontail is
Sylvilagus floridanus (J. A. Allen) [9,10,28,48]. Chapman and others
[10] listed 35 accepted subspecies, the majority of which occur in
Mexico. It has been remarked that extensive transplantation of eastern
cottontails throughout this century has rendered subspecific
designations somewhat meaningless, particularly in eastern North
America. The type subspecies locale is Florida [11].
  • 9. Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Edwards, William R. 1982. Cottontails: Sylvilagus floridanus and allies. In: Chapman, Joseph A.; Feldhamer, George A., eds. Wild mammals of North America. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Univeristy Press: 83-123. [25231]
  • 10. Chapman, Joseph A.; Hockman, J. Gregory; Ojeda C., Magaly M. 1980. Sylvilagus floridanus. Mammalian Species. 136: 1-8. [25167]
  • 48. Nowak, Ronald M.; Paradiso, John L. 1983. Walker's mammals of the world. 4th edition. 4th edition. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press. 568 p. [25151]
  • 11. Chapman, Joseph A.; Morgan, Raymond P., II. 1973. Systematic status of the cottontail complex in western Maryland and nearby West Virginia. Wildlife Monographs. 36: 1-54. [25168]
  • 28. Hall, E. Raymond. 1981. The mammals of North America. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. New York: John Wiley and Sons. 1271 p. [14765]

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