Living Organisms / Animalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Lagomorpha / Leporidae / Genus:
Sylvilagus -

Species referenced within Wildpro

Alternative Names (Synonyms)
  • Hydrolagus.
  • Limnolagus.
  • Microlagus.
  • Paludilagus.
  • Tapeti.


  • The species within the genus Sylvilagus are known more commonly as the cottontails. (B147)
  • Cottontails, American rabbits. (B51)
Genus Synonyms
  • Hydrolagus.
  • Limnolagus.
  • Microlagus.
  • Paludilagus.
  • Tapeti.


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General Information

General Information

General cottontail (Sylvilagus spp.) information

General Appearance
  • "All cottontails have relatively large ears and feet." (B605.5.w5)
Measurement and Weight


  • 215-471mm. (B147)
  • 25-45cm. (B285.w5c)
  • Males are usually smaller than the females. (B147, B287)
  • Tail length:
    • 15 - 60mm. (B147)
    • 2.5 - 6cm. (B285.w5c)


  • 246-2,700g. (B147)
  • 0.4-2.3kg. (B285.w5c)
  • 400-2,000g. (B605.5.w5)
  • 250-3,280g. (B287)
Head and Neck

General Head Structure

  • Ears
    • Medium-sized, approximately 5.5cm. (B285.w5c)
    • "The ears vary in size among the species but are generally of medium length for the Lagomorpha." (B147)
    • "All cottontails have relatively large ears." (B605.5.w5)


  • Rabbits and hares have a total of 28 teeth. (B285.w5a)
  • The lower tooth rows are closer together than the upper tooth rows. (B147)
  • Lagomorphs differ from rodents by having two pairs of upper incisors rather than just the one pair. The additional set of incisors are called peg teeth and are found directly behind the long pair in the upper jaw. (B147, B285.w5a, B605.1.w1)
  • At birth, lagomorphs actually have three pairs of upper incisors, but they quickly lose the outer incisor on each side. (B147)
  • The incisors are covered completely by enamel. (B147)
  • The upper incisors' roots are found in the skull's premaxillary bones. However, the length of the lower incisors' roots varies. (B147)
    • [Note: lagomorphs have teeth which grow throughout their lives. For this reason the portion of the teeth which is not exposed (not above the gum line) is strictly speaking not a "root"; however, it is sometimes convenient to describe it as a root.]
  • The first upper incisors have a cutting edge which is V-shaped. (B147)
  • The peg teeth lack a cutting edge. (B147)
  • The upper incisors have a straight cutting edge. (B605.5.w5)
  • Species within this genus have a second set of "peg" teeth. These are located posterior to the upper incisors. (B605.5.w5)
Legs, Spine and Tracks
  • Relatively large feet.  (B605.5.w5)
  • 15 - 60 mm. (B147)
  • 2.5 - 6 cm. (B285.w5c)
Skin / Coat / Pelage
  • Most species within this genus have dark upperparts and lighter underparts. (B605.5.w5)
    • "The upper parts of the body are usually grayish brown to reddish brown and the underparts are usually white or buffy. The nape is often red, but it may be black." (B147)
    • "...coat mostly speckled grayish-brown to reddish-brown above; undersides white buff-white; tail brown above and white below." (B285.w5c)
  • In most species, the upperpart of the tail is brown, with the underside being white. This is where the name 'cottontail' comes from. (B147)
  • "Ears...same color as the upper side; nape often reddish, but may be black." (B285.w5c)
  • One or two moults per year. No species within this genus are known to turn white in the winter. (B147)
  • All species except the Forest [Sylvilagus brasiliensis - Tapeti] and Marsh [Sylvilagus palustris - Marsh rabbit] rabbits moult once a year. (B285.w5c)
Detailed Anatomy Notes
  • Species of this genus have an interparietal bone. (B605.5.w5)
  • The skull has a highly fenestrated maxillary bone. (B605.5.w5)

Female Reproductive Tract

  • Females have four or five pairs of mammae. (B147, B287)

Male Reproductive Tract

  • Males have inguinal and coagulating glands. (B287)
Life Stages

Breeding Season

  • At higher latitudes and elevations, the breeding season usually starts later than at lower latitudes and elevations. (B147)
  • Species within this genus have high rates of reproduction. (B605.5.w5)
  • Mortality and dispersal regulate population numbers. (B605.5.w5)
  • Synchronous breeders. (B430.w2)

Oestrus / Ovulation --

Gestation / Pregnancy

  • A correlation appears to exist between latitude and gestation period, with the longest gestation period being 42 days, found in Sylvilagus brasiliensis - Tapeti in Venezuela. (B147)

Parturition / Birth --

Neonatal / Development

  • Born furred but blind. Eyes open between 2 and 10 days of age. (B287)
  • Young are altricial, and are born naked. (B605.5.w5)

Litter Size

  • Litter sizes for species within this genus are generally between two and six young. Litter sizes are usually greater in the north than they are in the south. (B147)

Time Between Litters / Litters Per Year

  • Most species of Sylvilagus are known to produce several litters per year. (B147)
  • "The number of young produced annually by Sylvilagus varies among species, with an elevational and latitudinal gradient within species." (B605.5.w5)
  • Cottontails are iteroparous. (B605.5.w5)

Lactation / Milk Production --

Sexual Maturity

  • It is thought that the young of most species are thought to be capable of reproducing within their first calendar year, but it seems that the majority do not do so until the following year. (B147)

Male Seasonal Variation --

Longevity / Mortality

  • In captivity: 10 years. (B285.w5c)
Natural Diet
  • Cottontails eat a wide variety of plants, the majority of which are herbaceous species. (B147, B285.w5c)
  • During the winter months in colder regions, cottontails feed on the bark and twigs of woody vegetation. (B147, B285.w5c)
Detailed Physiology Notes

Gastrointestinal System (Faeces and Gut Motility)

  • "They excrete two kinds of fecal material: hard brown pellets, from which digestion already has extracted nutrients; and soft greenish pellets, which are reingested and provide vitamin B supplementation." (B147)

Special Senses and Vocalisations

  • Rarely vocalise. (B285.w5c)
  • "Several species utter squeals and high-pitched calls of distress." (B147)
Feeding Behaviour
  • "Cottontail behavior is stereotyped and fairly consistent with other rabbit species." (B605.5.w5)
Parental Behaviour
  • The females of most species of Sylvilagus dig nest holes, about 100-150 mm deep and 120 mm wide; sometimes slanted, and both lined and covered with soft plant fibres and the female's own fur, which she plucks from her underside.  (B147)
  • The female does not herself live in the nest. To feed the young she crouches over the nest, the kits climbing to the top of the nest to nurse. (B147)
Social Behaviour / Territoriality / Predation / Learning


  • Most species within this genus are solitary. (B147)
  • May chase off other individuals if they approach too closely. (B147)
  • "Not colonial, but some species form social hierarchies in breeding groups." (B285.w5c)
  • "Cottontail behavior is stereotyped and fairly consistent with other rabbit species." (B605.5.w5)

Predation --

Predator Avoidance

  • When under threat from a predator, cottontails sit completely still and remain quiet, even when closely approached. They are capable of staying like this for 15 minutes if necessary. (B147)

Population Densities

  • "Population levels vary markedly between species and from year to year, depending on climate, habitat type and other factors." (B605.5.w5)
  • Cottontails tend to be cyclic in abundance. (B605.5.w5)
  • "Habitat is the key to cottontail abundance." (B605.5.w5)
    • Desert species: normal densities are thought to be less than one rabbit per hectare. (B605.5.w5)

Home Ranges and Distances Travelled

  • The home ranges of females are generally smaller than those of males. (B147)
  • These species have stable home ranges of a few hectares which overlap. (B285.w5c)


  • Not territorial. (B285.w5c)
Sexual Behaviour
  • "Several males may come together during the breeding season and pursue an estrous female." (B147)
Activity Patterns, Self-grooming and Navigation

Activity Patterns

  • Active year-round. (B147)

Circadian Rhythm

  • Mostly nocturnal or crepuscular. (B147)
  • Cottontails are sometimes seen during daylight hours. (B147)
  • Active at night or during the day. (B285.w5c)

Speed of Movement

  • The majority of species move by characteristic bunny hopping. (B147)
  • It is thought that all species are capable of swimming. (B147)
General Habitat Type
  • Most species within this genus are quite habitat-specific, except for Sylvilagus floridanus - Eastern cottontail. (B147)
  • "A habitat factor common to all species is the need for cover, usually in the form of low vegetation." (B147)
  • All species are terrestrial. However, captive Sylvilagus bachmani - Brush rabbit have been reported to climb short distances into trees, and Sylvilagus nuttallii - Mountain cottontail is considered by some to be semiarboreal as it is known to regularly climb into juniper trees in order to feed. (B147)
  • "...near the center of Washington, D.C., cottontails are frequently to be seen in small tracts of vegetation between apartment houses." (B147)
  • The species within this genus occupy a wide range of habitats. (B285.w5c)
  • Most species tend to prefer open or brushy land, or forest clearings with scrub cover. They may also be found in parks and cultivated areas. Some species tend to prefer marshes, forests, swamps deserts or sandy beaches. (B285.w5c)
  • "No single vegetative community can be identified as cottontail habitat...Cottontails inhabit a wide variety of disturbed, successional and transitional habitats, often characterized by forbs and perennial grasses, with an abundance of well-distributed escape cover such as sage brush (Artemesia sp.), bramble (Rubus sp.) or Frailejones (Espeletia sp.)." (B605.5.w5)
  • The presence of escape cover is an essential habitat requirement for these species. (B605.5.w5)
Nests / Burrows / Shelters
  • Cottontails are not thought to dig burrows. (B147)
  • Some species are known to make use of burrows made by other animals. (B147)
  • Also take shelter in brush piles and forms. (B147)
  • Several forms may be connected by flattened trails made through regular use of pathways. (B147)
  • "All species occupy burrows made by other animals or inhabit available shelter or hide in vegetation." (B285.w5c)
  • "The females of most species dig holes for nests in which the young are reared." (B147)
  • Nests built by females are usually between 100 and 150 mm deep, with a width of 120 mm. These holes are usually slanted, and the female will line the nest with soft plant fibres, as well as fur which she plucks from her underside. (B147)
  • "The female does not actually reside in the nest; she merely crouches above it, and the babies climb to the top of the nest to nurse." (B147)
  • They are born into a nest or form. (B605.5.w5)
Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)
  • Most species are common. (B285.w5c)
  • North and Central America. Also found in South America. (B51)
  • The range of Sylvilagus species extends from southern Canada to Argentina and Paraguay. (B285.w5c)
  • The distributions of some species within this genus overlap. (B285.w5c)
Species Variation
  • There has been some indecision as to whether there are 13 species within this genus, or 14 species, with the monotypic Brachylagus being considered a subgenus. (B605.5.w5)
  • "All Sylvilagus are New World forms and reach their greatest diversification in North America." (B605.5.w5)
  • There are 14 species of Cottontail rabbit. (B147)
  • "Formerly included Brachylagus as a subgenus." (B607.w20)
Conservation Status


  • Habitat destruction due to agriculture and development. (B605.5.w5)

Trade and Use

  • Hunted extensively for sport and for food. (B147)
  • Game animals - the most important game animals in North America. (B605.5.w5)
  • Also hunted due to the damage they can cause to crops and forest plantations. (B147)
  • "Because of their abundance they are rated as the most important game species in many parts of the eastern United States." (B147)

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Primary Reference at the level of this taxa

B607 Wilson, D.E. & Reeder, D.M.
Mammal Species of the world - A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (Third Edition)
Other References
B605 Chapman, J.A. & Flux, J.E.C.
Rabbits, Hares and Pikas. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan 1990

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