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Living OrganismsAnimalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Lagomorpha / Leporidae / Sylvilagus / Species

Sylvilagus floridanus - Eastern cottontail (Click photographs/illustrations for full picture & further detai

Eastern cottontail - Sylvilagus floridanus. Click here for full page view with caption Eastern cottontail - Sylvilagus floridanus. Click here for full page view with caption Young Eastern cottontail - Sylvilagus floridanus. Click here for full page view with caption Young Eastern cottontail - Sylvilagus floridanus. Click here for full page view with caption Neonatal Eastern cottontails - Sylvilagus floridanus. Click here for full page view with caption Neonatal Eastern cottontails - Sylvilagus floridanus. Click here for full page view with caption

INDEX - INFORMATION AVAILABLE

GENERAL & REFERENCES

APPEARANCE / MORPHOLOGY

LIFE STAGES / NATURAL DIET / PHYSIOLOGY

BEHAVIOUR

HABITAT & RANGE

CONSERVATION

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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

  • Florida cottontail. (B430.w2)
  • Sylvilagus ammophilus. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus paulsoni. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus alacer. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus ammophilus. (B430.w2)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus avius. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus aztecus. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus boylei. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus caniclunis. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus chapmani. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus chiapensis. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus cognatus. (B430.w2)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus connectens. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus continentis. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus costaricensis. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus cumanicus. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus durangae. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus floridanus, (B430.w2)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus hesperius. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus hitchensi. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus holzneri. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus hondurensis. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus llanensis. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus macrocorpus. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus mallurus. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus margaritae. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus mearnsi. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus nelsoni. (B605.5.w5)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus nigronuchalis. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus orinoci. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus orizabae. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus paulsoni. (B430.w2, B605.5.w5)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus persultator. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus purgatus. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus restrictur. (B430.w2)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus restrictus. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus rigidus. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus robustus. (B430.w2, B605.5.w5)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus russatus. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus similis. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus simplicicanus. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus subcinctus. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus superciliaris. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus sylvaticus. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus valenciae. (B607.w20)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus yucatanicus. (B607.w20)

Names for new-borns / juveniles

Names for males

Names for females

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General Appearance

Adult:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • This is a large cottontail rabbit species, brownish to greyish with a white underside and tail. (B430.w2, B605.5.w5, J469.136.w1) It usually has a distinctive white spot on forehead. (B430.w2)

Sylvilagus spp. General Information

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

Newborn:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Covered in fine hair; eyes closed. (J469.136.w1)

Similar Species

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

Sexual Dimorphism

  • Females are generally about 1% larger than males. (B430.w2, J469.136.w1)

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References

Species Authors & Referees

Author: Kathryn Pintus BSc MSc MSc (V.w115)

ORGANISATIONS

ELECTRONIC LIBRARY
(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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Husbandry Information

Notes

  • --

Management Techniques

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Appearance / Morphology

Measurement & Weight

Notes

LENGTH
Adult:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Range: 395-477 mm (average: 430 mm). (B430.w2)
    • Males: 359 - 456 mm, average 427.0 mm. (J469.136.w1)
    • Females: 400 - 477 mm (average 433.2 mm). (J469.136.w1)
  • Females are generally about 1% larger than males. (B430.w2, J469.136.w1)

Newborns:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Crown-rump: 87 mm. (B287)
  • Range: 90-98 mm (sample size = 6; terminal embryos). (B287)
  • Head-body: 121-134 mm (at 25.4 days gestation). (B287)
  • 90 -110 mm. (J469.136.w1)

HEIGHT
Adults and sub-adults: --
Juveniles: --

WEIGHT
Adult:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • 801-1,533 g. (B430.w2)
  • 800-1,500 g. (B147)
  • 1,300 g. (B605.5.w5)
  • Males: 801 - 1,411 g (average 1,134 g). (J469.136.w1)
  • Females: 842 - 1,533 g (average 1,244 g). (J469.136.w1)

Newborns:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • 35-45 g. (B147, J469.136.w1)
  • Weight range at 25.4 days gestation: 24.8-31.2 g. (B287)
  • Average: 28.54 g; range: 23.3-33.0 g (sample size = 5). (B287)
  • 30 g. (B287)
  • Range taken from 6 terminal embryos: 30.3-38.0 g. (B287)
  • Average: 37.8 g (sample size = 22; these were young/one day old). (B287)
  • The average of six neonates was 42.2 g. (B287)

GROWTH RATE 

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Weaning mass: Approximately 112 g (leave the nest). (B287)

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Head and Neck

Notes

GENERAL HEAD STRUCTURE:
Adult:

Sylvilagus spp. General Information:
  • Ears
    • "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)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Ear length:
    • Males 55 - 67 mm (average 61.5 mm), from notch. (J469.136.w1)
    • Females 56 - 67 mm (average 61.1 mm, from notch. (J469.136.w1)

Newborn: --

DENTITION:
Adult:

General Information

  • 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 straight cutting edge. (B147)
  • The peg teeth lack a cutting edge. (B147)

EYES:
Adult:

General Information

  • Lagomorph eyes are positioned such that they allow for good broad-field vision. (B285.w5a)
  • Hares and rabbits have large eyes which are adapted to both their crepuscular and nocturnal activity patterns. (B285.w5b)
  • Leporids have "large eyes to increase visual acuity in dim light." (B430.w2)

Newborn: --

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Legs, Spine and Tracks

Notes

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information
  • Hindfoot length
    • Males: 90 - 105 mm (average 95.4 mm). (J469.136.w1)
    • Females: 90 - 104 mm (average 95.4 mm). (J469.136.w1)
    • Neonate: 21 - 32 mm. (J469.136.w1)

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Tail

Notes

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information
  • Length: 25 - 61 mm (average: 45 mm). (B430.w2)
  • Males: 25 - 45 mm (average 44.9 mm). (J469.136.w1)
  • Females: 28 - 61 mm (average 44.8 mm). (J469.136.w1)

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Skin / Coat / Pelage

Notes

Adult:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Fur is long and dense. (B430.w2, B605.5.w5)
  • Upperparts are brownish to greyish. The undersides of the body and tail are white. (B430.w2, B605.5.w5)
  • Usually has distinctive white spot on forehead. (B430.w2)
  • "The South American forms have a nuchal patch varying from black to yellowish-brown, depending on subspecies." (B605.5.w5)

Sylvilagus spp. General Information:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Two distinct moults, with a gradual change from winter to summer pelage over March to August, while the autumn moult starts late in September and is complete by the first week of November. (J469.136.w1)

Adult Colour variations: --

Newborn / Juvenile: --

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Detailed Anatomy Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

Notes

Skull

Sylvilagus spp. General Information:

  • Species of this genus have an interparietal bone. (B605.5.w5)
  • The skull has a highly fenestrated maxillary bone. (B605.5.w5)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Skull characteristics are useful when telling this species apart from other similar-looking species. (B430.w2)
Female reproductive tract

Sylvilagus spp. General Information:

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

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Ovaries are fusiform in shape and located in the lumbar region. Medial to the ovary is a partial bursa ovarica with a very large opening. (J469.136.w1)
Male reproductive tract

Lagomorph general information

  • Male lagomorphs lack a baculum. (B147)
  • Testes of lagomorphs are in the scrotum located in front of the penis. (B147)

Sylvilagus spp. General Information:

  • Males have inguinal and coagulating glands. (B287)

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Life Stages / Natural Diet / Physiology

Life Stages

Notes

BREEDING SEASON:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • "Onset of annual reproduction varies from population to population and from year to year, depending on weather, latitude and elevation." (B605.5.w5)
    • Later start to reproductive activity at higher latitudes and higher elevations. (J469.136.w1)
  • Onset of reproduction may be affected by temperature; severe weather can delay the start of breeding. (J469.136.w1)
  • In arid regions, diet and rainfall also appear to be important factors in determining the onset of reproduction. (B605.5.w5)
  • The time of year during which mating occurs in the USA varies depending on the region, but is generally between January and mid-September. For example, in Michigan, mating has been reported to occur between January and August, whereas in Oklahoma, mating begins in mid-February and extends until mid-September. (B287)
  • In Venezuela, mating occurs year-round. (B287)
  • Conception: females conceive between January and September in Georgia, USA. (B287)
  • Reproduction:
    • Alabama: starting first week in January. (B147, J469.136.w1)
    • Alabama, USA: January to September. (B287)
    • North Carolina, USA: end of January to early October. (B287)
    • Connecticut: mid-March to mid-September. (J469.136.w1)
    • New York: February to September. (B147, J469.136.w1)
    • Western Maryland: late February to August. (J469.136.w1)
    • Georgia: none-month breeding season. (J469.136.w1)
    • Southern Texas: year-round breeding. (B147, J469.136.w1)

OESTRUS / OVULATION:

General Information

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • This species is extremely fecund. (B430.w2)
  • Synchronised breeding behaviour is reported. (J469.136.w1)

GESTATION / PREGNANCY:

General Information

  • The gestation period for rabbits is usually between 27-30 days. (B285.w5b)
  • Under adverse conditions (such as during climatic or social stress), female lagomorphs are able to resorb embryos. (B285.w5a)
  • It is thought that some lagomorph species are able to conceive a second litter even before the last young is born; this is known as superfetation. (B285.w5a)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Gestation period is between 26 and 28 days. (B285.w5c)
  • Average gestation period is 30 days. (B430.w2)
  • Gestation period: 25-35 days. Depending on the area, averages may be around 28 or 29 days. (B147)
  • Gestation period varies within this species between 25 and 36 days, with the norm seeming to be approximately 27 days. (B287)
  • The time of year during which pregnant females are found varies depending upon the region. Some examples from the USA include:
    • Kentucky: January to September, with a peak in June.
    • Michigan: March to August.
    • Pennsylvania: December to January.
    • Texas: pregnancy occurs year-round, though low in June and July.

    (B287)

  • Coahuila, Mexico: March to June (based on few data). (B287)

PARTURITION / BIRTH:

General Information

  • Newborn rabbits are born with very little or no fur, and their eyes do not open until 4-10 days after birth. (B285.w5b)
  • Rabbits produce altricial kittens (B285.w5b, B430.w2) which are born into fur-lined nests built either under dense cover or within underground chambers. (B285.w5b)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Young are born into a nest made of dried grasses and leaves. The nest is lined with fur. (B430.w2)
  • In the USA, females generally give birth between February and September, though this will vary depending upon the region. (B287)

NEONATAL / DEVELOPMENT:

General Information

  • Young are only suckled briefly once every 24 hours. (B285.w5b)
  • Rabbit kittens remain together within their breeding chambers. (B285.w5)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Young naked at birth. (B285.w5c)
  • Eyes open after 4-7 days. (B147)
    • Eyes opened day 4 - 5, day 6 - 7 and day 7 - 8 in three studies. (J469.136.w1)
  • The young move out of the nest at approximately 12-16 days of age. (B147)
  • Thought to be weaned and independent at 4-5 weeks of age. (B147)
  • Weaning mass: Approximately 112 g (leave the nest). (B287)
  • Young emerge from the nest at approximately 14 days of age. (B287)
    • Emerged from the nest at 12, 14 and 14 - 16 days in three studies. (J469.136.w1)
  • The young move on to eating solid food between 14 and 18 days of age. (B287)
  • Young are weaned between 14 and 15 days of age. (B287)
  • Young are independent between 25 and 28 days of age. (B287)
  • In Michigan, young are found in July. (B287)

LITTER SIZE:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Litter size in this species is usually between three and six young. (B430.w2)
  • Maryland: between one and twelve young, with an average of 5.01. (B147)
  • United States: averages are usually between three and six young per litter. (B147)
  • South America: litter size usually averages around 2 individuals. (B147)
  • From 3.0 to 5.6 young per litter. (B605.5.w5)
  • Litter size varies between one and twelve young, though three, four or five young appears to be most common. (B287)
  • Size of the first litter is affected by age and/or previous pregnancy. The first litter is larger when the onset of reproduction is delayed. (J469.136.w1)
  • Litter size in the first litter is about three (Alabama), five or more (Maryland, North Dakota), 3.1 (Georgia), 5.6 (Illinois). In South America, generally there are two young per litter, and rarely one or three. (J469.136.w1)

TIME BETWEEN LITTERS / LITTERS PER YEAR:

General Information

  • The inter-birth interval in lagomorphs is reduced by the phenomenon of induced ovulation, and post-partum oestrus, which allows females to conceive immediately after she has given birth. (B285.w5a)
  • A female can produce up to three or four litters per year. (B430.w2)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • The Eastern cottontail usually produces seven litters per year. (B430.w2)
  • Three to seven litters per year. (B147)
  • Five to seven litters per year. (B605.5.w5)
  • The interlitter interval for this species is approximately one month. (B287)
  • This species produces between one and seven litters per year, though three, four or five is probably most usual. (B287)
  • Females can produce a total of 35 young per year. (B147, B430.w2, B605.5.w5)
  • Variously reported as three to four, average of 4.6 (Maryland data), and five to seven. ((J469.136.w1))

LACTATION / MILK PRODUCTION:

General Information

  • Leporids only release milk once in every 24 hour period. (B285.w5b)
  • Leporid milk has a very high fat and protein content, and as such is highly nutritious. Although the lactation period is brief, the milk is pumped into the young at a high speed.(B285.w5b)
  • The lactation period has a duration of between 17 and 23 days. (B285.w5b)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Young are weaned at 14 or 15 days of age. (B287)
  • Nursed: 20-25 days. (B287)
  • Time of year in which lactation occurs varies depending upon the region:
    • Florida, USA: March to June.
    • Pennsylvania, USA: April to September.
    • Nebraska, USA: May, July to August.
    • Coahuila, Mexico: April (based on few data).

    (B287)

SEXUAL MATURITY:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Males and females of this species reach sexual maturity at approximately 125 days of age. (B287)
  • Juvenile female breeding has been reported. (B605.5.w5)
  • Up to about 50% of young-of-the-year may breed; this may be much lower in some populations. (J469.136.w1)
  • Females first mate at approximately two to five months of age. (B287)
  • Females first mate during their first summer. (B287)
  • Females first conceive between 85 and 100 days of age. (B287)
  • Females usually first become pregnant during their first summer. (B287)
  • Females reach sexual maturity at approximately 2.5 months of age. (B287)
  • Juvenile females are known to breed, but juvenile males do not. (B287)
  • Males: Epididymal sperm: 80 days of age. (B287)

MALE SEASONAL VARIATION:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Sperm is produce year-round in Oklahoma, except in October. (B287)
  • Spermatogenesis occurs between January and July in Virginia. (B287)
  • Testes: The time of year in which testes change size varies depending on the region:
    • Piedmont, Georgia, USA: Testes are large between February and July, and small between July and January.
    • Illinois, USA: Large between February and July.
    • Oklahoma, USA: Large between February and August.
    • Coastal Georgia, USA: Large between March and August, small between September and January.
    • Virginia, USA: Large in April.
    • Wisconsin, USA: Large in May and quiescent between September and December.
    • New York, USA: Large from the end of December to October.

    (B287)

  • Epididymal sperm: February to August (in Illinois). (B287)

LONGEVITY / MORTALITY:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • The survival rate for adults of this species is 20%. (B147, J469.136.w1)
  • Longevity in the wild is, on average, 15 months. (B147, J469.136.w1)
  • One marked wild individual was recorded to have lived for five years, and a captive individual lived to be more than nine years of age. (B147)
  • It has been suggested that potentially cottontails might live for up to 10 years, and that females may have greater longevity than males. (J469.136.w1)

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Natural Diet

Notes

NATURAL DIET:

General Information

  • Lagomorphs only eat vegetation, mainly grasses and other herbaceous plants. Bark from young trees and small shrub stems may be eaten when food supplies are scarce. (B147, B285.w5c, B430.w2)

Sylvilagus spp. General Information:

  • 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)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • "Food habits of the eastern cottontail vary by season and distribution." (B430.w2)

  • During the spring and summer, the majority of the diet is made up of grasses and herbaceous vegetation. (B430.w2)

  • During the autumn and winter, woody species including brambles predominate. (B430.w2)

  • "Eastern cottontails feed on a wide variety of plants depending on the season and geographic location." (B605.5.w5)

  • Wide variety of plants, with herbaceous plants important in the growing season and woody plants important in winter. Plant species in the diet in New York included apple (Malus pumila), staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), red maple (Acer rubrum), blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis), red raspberry (Rubus strigosus), Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), Canada bluegrass (Poa compressa), timothy (Phleum pratense), quack grass (Agropyon repens), orphard grass (Dactylis glomerata), red clover (Trifolium pratense) and wild carrot (Daucus carota). (J469.136.w1)

QUANTITY EATEN: --
STUDY METHODS: --

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Hibernation / Aestivation

Notes

General Information
  • Active year-round. (B147)

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Haematology / Biochemistry

Notes

HAEMATOLOGY:

BIOCHEMISTRY:

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Detailed Physiology Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in WILDPro)

Notes

METABOLISM (TEMPERATURE):

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information 

  • Body fat index is highest in autumn, while body condition  peaks in spring. (J469.136.w1)

RESPIRATORY SYSTEM (RESPIRATION): --

CIRCULATORY SYSTEM (PULSE/HEART RATE): --

GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM (FAECES AND GUT MOTILITY):

General Information

  • Lagomorphs have digestive systems which are adapted for processing large quantities of vegetation. (B285.w5a)
  • Lagomorphs are well adapted for obtaining the greatest possible value from their food. They produce two types of faecal material: moist pellets and dry pellets. The moist pellets are expelled and then eaten (a behaviour known as caecotrophy (B285.w5a)); this is done with little or no chewing, and as a result the majority of the food passes through the digestive tract twice (this is thought to have the same function as 'chewing the cud' in ruminants). The dry faecal pellets are not eaten. (B147)
  • Coprophagy occurs in the Eastern cottontail with caecotrophs eaten directly from the anus. (J469.136.w1)

URINARY SYSTEM (URINE): --

CHROMOSOMES:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • 2n = 42. (J469.136.w1)

MUSCULO-SKELETAL SYSTEM: --

SPECIAL SENSES AND VOCALISATIONS:

General Information

  • All lagomorphs use scent products secreted from special glands. (B285.w5a) These glands are located under the chins and in the groin, and are believed to play a key role in sexual communication, as well as in signalling social status in some gregarious species. (B285.w5b)
  • Whereas pikas tend to be more vocal, rabbits and hares rely strongly on scent rather than sound as a means of communication. (B285.w5b)
  • High-pitched distress squeals are emitted by leporids when captured by a predator, and specific alarm calls are produced in five rabbit species. (B285.w5b, B430.w2)
  • Some rabbit species thump the ground with their hind feet when faced with danger (B285.w5b, B430.w2); this reaction is thought to be a warning to nestlings underground. (B285.w5b)
  • The conspicuous white underside present on the tails of some rabbit species can act as a visual warning to other individuals when fleeing from a predator. These species tend to be found in more open habitats. (B285.w5b)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Vocalisations play a role in adult social behaviour. (B430.w2)
  • Distress cries (high pitched screams), squeals (during copulation) and grunts (by nesting females when an intruder approaches are the three types of vocalisations which have been described. (J469.136.w1)

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Behaviour

Feeding Behaviour

Notes

General Information
  • Lagomorphs are well adapted for obtaining the greatest possible value from their food. They produce two types of fecal material: moist pellets and dry pellets. The moist pellets are expelled and then eaten; this is done with little or no chewing, and as a result the majority of the food passes through the digestive tract twice (this is thought toe have the same function as 'chewing the cud' in ruminants). The dry faecal pellets are not eaten. (B147)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • "Food habits of the eastern cottontail vary by season and distribution." (B430.w2)
  • Feeding activity peaks usually occur at sunrise and sunset. (B430.w2)
  • One study noted feeding peaks three to four hours after sunrise and sunset to an hour after sunset. (J469.136.w1)

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Parental Behaviour

Notes

General Information

  • Male leporids are not generally involved in care of the young. However, if adult females attack young leporids, males will intervene, a behaviour known as 'policing'. (B285.w5b)
  • Even maternal care of the young is not particularly prominent in leporids, hence this reproductive strategy is known as 'absentee parentism'. (B285.w5a)
  • Leporids demonstrate an unusual system of nursing; the young are suckled only briefly (often less than five minutes) just once every 24 hours. (B285.w5b)
  • It is thought that the lack of social contact between the mother and her young is a strategy which diminishes the chances of attracting the attention of predators. (B285.w5b)
  • The entrances to breeding tunnels are carefully re-sealed following each bout of suckling (B285.w5b)

Sylvilagus spp. General Information:

  • 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)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Young are born into nests made of dried grasses and leaves. The nest is lined with fur. (B430.w2)

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Social Behaviour / Territoriality / Predation / Learning

Notes

SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR:

General Information

  • Most North American leporid species are solitary, but congregations of these animals often occur in favoured feeding grounds. (B430.w2)
  • Rabbits are solitary to gregarious. (B430.w2)
Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information
  • "Adult social behaviors include animated courtship and vocal communication, as well as dominant-subordinate interactions among males." (B430.w2)
  • This species seems to establish social hierarchies. (B430.w2)
  • Fighting is rare. (B430.w2)
  • Males establish dominance hierarchies. These dominance hierarchies determine mating priority and the dominant males copulate with most of the females. (B147, J469.136.w1)
  • Females of this species also establish dominance hierarchies, but these are far less rigid than those of the males. (B147)
  • Dominant-subordinate interactions occur. Subordinate individuals move away from dominant cottontails, or crouch. Dominant males may charge subordinates, forcing them to retreat , then sniff the ground where the subordinate had been. Aggressive chases also occur. These interactions also occur in females, but chases tend to be shorter. Fighting occurs, including kicking and biting, but is not extensive since one animal quickly gives ground to the other. (J469.136.w1)
  • "The eastern cottontail exhibits two major categories of social behavior (1) basic postures, movements and vocalizations and (2) adult social interactions, which include reproductive interactions and dominant-subordinate interactions." (B605.5.w5)
  • "...eastern cottontails have a male dominance hierarchy which controls the social structure of their populations." (B605.5.w5)
  • Has been known to displace other leporids. (B605.5.w5)
  • May displace other sympatric cottontail species, such as the Sylvilagus transitionalis - New England cottontail. (B605.5.w5)
  • Aggressive behaviour from Eastern cottontails to Sylvilagus bachmani - Brush rabbit has been seen where the Eastern cottontails have been introduced. (J469.136.w1)

PREDATION:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

PREDATOR AVOIDANCE:

General Information

  • Rabbits use dense cover to hide from predators. (B285.w5b)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Avoids predators by flushing or slinking. Flushing involves running quickly in a zig-zag pattern towards cover, whereas slinking involves laying the ears back and moving whilst keeping low to the ground. (B430.w2, J469.136.w1)
  • "When frightened or pursued by an enemy it may cover 3-5 meters for the first several leaps and then hop shorter distances, often in zigzag fashion." (B147)
POPULATION DENSITIES:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Population densities for this species may be more than 10 individuals per hectare. (B430.w2)
  • Wisconsin: autumn peak 8.9 per hectare. (B147, J469.136.w1)
  • Maryland: peak 10.18 per hectare on one small island. (B147, J469.136.w1)
  • Peak densities have been recorded at between eight and ten individuals per hectare. However, population densities are often much lower than this. (B605.5.w5)

HOME RANGES AND DISTANCES TRAVELLED:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Relatively large home ranges. (B605.5.w5)
  • Home ranges of this species are usually between one and two hectares. (B430.w2)
  • The size of a home range and movements are both influenced by various factors including habitat quality and seasonal behaviour. (B430.w2)
  • "...except during the breeding season, home ranges overlap indiscriminately." (B430.w2)
  • Wisconsin: home ranges (of both sexes) averaged approximately three hectares. (B605.5.w5)
  • Home ranges of this species may vary "...from 0.08 ha. to 42.0 ha. in the central and northeastern United States." (B147)
  • Males 0.95 - 2.8 hectares, females 0.95 - 1.2 hectares, from various radiotracking studies. (J469.136.w1)
  • Season, sex, age and the individual in question are all factors which may significantly affect home range size. (B605.5.w5, J469.136.w1)
  • Males appear to have the largest ranges during the breeding season. (B147)
  • A study conducted in southwestern Wisconsin found that the home range of an adult male "...increased from a mean of 2.8 ha. in the spring to a mean of 4.0 ha. in early summer and then decreased to a mean of 1.5 ha. by late summer as breeding activity waned." (B147)
  • Female home ranges have been reported to decline from 1.7 hectares in the spring to 0.8 hectares early on in the summer. Their home range seems to appear to then remain roughly the same until mid-January. (B147)
  • The following was found during a study conducted in southwestern Wisconsin: "During the breeding season each male's home range overlapped that of one or more other males by at least 50 percent, but female ranges did not overlap one another by more than 25 percent." (B147)

TERRITORIALITY:

General Information

  • The majority of hares and rabbits are non-territorial; some hares occupy home ranges of up to 300 ha (740 acres). ranges of individuals may overlap in favoured feeding grounds. (B285.w5b)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • These rabbits do not maintain territories. (B147, B430.w2, J469.136.w1)
  • ...except during the breeding season, home ranges overlap indiscriminately." (B430.w2)
    • After the breeding season, home ranges overlap "indiscriminately". (J469.136.w1)
  • Active defence of an area has only been seen in the immediate vicinity of the nest. (B147)

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Sexual Behaviour

Notes

General Information
  • All lagomorphs use scent products secreted from special glands. (B285.w5a) These glands are located under the chins and in the groin, and are believed to play a key role in sexual communication, as well as in signalling social status in some gregarious species. (B285.w5b)

Sylvilagus spp. General Information:

  • "Several males may come together during the breeding season and pursue an estrous female." (B147)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Courtship behaviour is animated. (B430.w2)
  • Initially when the male approaches, the female turns to face off with the male; the male continues approaching and the female boxes or charges him, the chases him as he retreats. The male then turns and dashes at the female as she passes, and urinates during this dash. The female then shakes her head, grooms and retreats, or a jump sequence occurs, with a face-off followed by the male rushing at the female who jumps over him before they face-off again. Once the female retreats after a face-off, the male follows closely. Before copulation there is a short chase of the female by one or more males. For copulation the female approaches from the rear and presents herself. The male clasps her flanks with his forelegs as he mounts and thrusts sharply several times after which the female breaks away and is pursued again by the male. Copulatory chases may last feom as little as 10 seconds to as long as seven minutes. (J469.136.w1)

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Activity Patterns, Self-grooming and Navigation

Notes

ACTIVITY PATTERNS:

Sylvilagus spp. General Information:

  • Active year-round. (B147)
  • The majority of species move by characteristic bunny hopping. (B147)
  • It is thought that all species are capable of swimming. (B147)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Exploratory behaviour of males includes chinning and paw-raking displays; females show exploratory behaviour while looking for nest sites. (J469.136.w1)
  • These rabbits roll in dusty areas (dusting). (J469.136.w1)
  • Four distinct grooming patterns include: "face grooming with front paws from eyes to muzzle, preceded by licking of paws; licking of the body and legs; scratching with the hind legs; and biting and cleaning of feet." (J469.136.w1)
  • Extensive grooming sessions are seen in nursing females. (J469.136.w1)
SELF-GROOMING: --
CIRCADIAN RHYTHM:

Sylvilagus spp. General Information:

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

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Feeding activity peaks usually occur at sunrise and sunset. (B430.w2)
  • Activity peaks at dawn and dusk; higher activity occurs on moonlit than on dark nights, and when the temperature is in the range 0 - 33 F, while activity is reduced during rain. (J469.136.w1)
SPEED OF MOVEMENT:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Maximum speed for this species is approximately 33-40 km.hr. (B147)
  • This species usually "...hops slowly, moving from a few centimeters to about 1 meter at a time, and frequently sits up on its hind legs to obtain a better view of its surroundings." (B147)
  • "When frightened or pursued by an enemy it may cover 3-5 meters for the first several leaps and then hop shorter distances, often in zigzag fashion." (B147)
NAVIGATION: --

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Habitat and Range

General Habitat Type

Notes

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information
  • Thrives in diverse habitats. (B430.w2)
  • "Habitat preference varies from season to season, between regions, and with varying behavioural activities." (B430.w2)
  • This species is usually found in farmland, fields and hedges, but historically was also found in the following:
    • Boreal forests
    • Deserts
    • Hardwood forests
    • Natural glades
    • Prairies
    • Rain forests
    • Swamps
    • Woodlands

    (B147, B430.w2, B605.5.w5)

  • Also found in tropical savannas. (B605.5.w5)
  • Overgrown fields. (B430.w2)
  • Able to survive in cultivated areas. (B147)
  • In New York (Hudson Valley), requirements were considered to include "grasslands, hedgerows, areas of low, dense brush, and dens for escape." The best escape dens are apparently those of Marmota monax - Woodchuck. (J469.136.w1)
  • In South America (Venezuela, Colombia), these rabbits are found in arid and semi-arid areas. (J469.136.w1)
  • In Venezuela, the Eastern cottontail tends to be found in dry upland areas. (B147)

Sylvilagus spp. General Information:

  • The presence of escape cover is an essential habitat requirement for these species. (B605.5.w5)

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Nests / Burrows / Shelters

Notes

Sylvilagus spp. General Information:

  • 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 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)

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Depending on the area and availability, brush piles or natural growing vegetation may be used for cover and shelter. (B430.w2, J469.136.w1)
  • Young are born into nests made of dried grasses and leaves. The nest is lined with fur. (B430.w2)
  • "Nests are slanting holes in the ground with average measurements of: length, 180 mm; width, 126 mm; depth, 119 mm." The size of the nest and the size of the litter are not correlated with each other. (J469.136.w1)
  • Nests have an outer lining of vegetation such as grass, herbaceous stems or leaves, and an inner heavy layer of fur from the female. (J469.136.w1)

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Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Notes

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information
  • This species has the widest distribution of all the cottontails. (B430.w2)
    • In some areas, the range of this species is expanding. (B430.w2)
  • Found from southern Canada down to northern South America. (B430.w2, B605.5.w5)
  • Found from astern and central USA to Costa Rica. (B51)
  • Found in Venezuela through disjunct parts of Central America to northwestern Arizona, southern Saskatchewan, south-central Quebec, Michigan, Massachusetts and Florida. (B285.w5c)
  • This species is found in the following areas:
    • Northern, central and western Venezuela (including adjacent islands). (B607.w20)
    • Colombia through Central America. Part of this range is disjunct. (B607.w20)
    • Northwestern Mexico, Arizona, northwards and eastwards into North Dakota, Minnesota, northern Michigan, New York and Massachusetts. (B607.w20)
    • To the Atlantic coast and southwards, and from the Florida Gulf Coast (USA) west to Mexico. (B607.w20)
    • Also found in southern Saskatchewan, southern Ontario and south-central Quebec (central Canada). (B607.w20)
  • "...southern Manitoba and Quebec through the eastern and southwestern United States to western Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela." (B147)
  • The various subspecies have been reported as being distributed as follows:
    • Sylvilagus floridanus alacer - "...southeastern Kansas, southern Missouri, eastern Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana except along the coast, and southeastern Texas." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus ammophilus - "...Oak Lodge, east of Micco, Florida, known only from the type locality." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus aztecus - "...southern Mexico between Mapastepec on the east and Colotepec on the west, north of the summit of the Sierra Madre." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus chapmani - "...central Texas to southeastern Mexico, as far south as about Tampico on the east and San Luis Potosi on the west." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus chiapensis - "...eastern Mexico along the northern Sierra Madre de Chiapas in Chiapas and southeastern Guatemala." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus cognatus - Central New Mexico. (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus connectens - "...eastern Mexico along the eastern foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental east to the coast between Tampico and Alvarado." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus costaricensis - "...western Costa Rica and extreme southern Nicaragua along the southern edge of Lake Nicaragua." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus floridanus - "...peninsular Florida from about Ocala south." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus hesperius - "...central Arizona from the Nevada border southeast through Flagstaff to about Phoenix." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus hitchensi - "...known only from the type locality, Smith Island, Virginia." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus holzneri - "...southeastern Arizona and extreme southwestern New Mexico through central Mexico to about Guadalajara." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus hondurensis - "...El Salvador, eastern Honduras, and central Nicaragua." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus llanensis - "...extreme southeastern Colorado southwestern Nebraska, western Oklahoma, and north-central Texas." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus mallurus - "...Massachusetts south and east along the Atlantic coast and along the Appalachian Mountains, into northern Florida and west to the Alabama-Mississippi border." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus mearnsi - "...midwestern United States and the Great Lakes region of Canada, from Lake Erie to Montreal, south to western Virginia, west to northeastern Nebraska, and north to north-central Minnesota." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus orizabae - "...central Mexico between Orizaba and Monterrey, west from Monterrey to about Torreon, then south to about Uruapan and east to Orizaba." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus paulsoni - "...extreme southeastern Florida, near Homestead." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus restrictur - "...southeastern Mexico along the Sierra Madre between Puerto Vallarta and Lazaro Cardenas." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus robustus - "...the west side of the Sierra Madre Occidental from Saltillo, Mexico, north along the Guadalupe Mountains to the Texas-New Mexico border." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus russatus - "...foothills and lowlands of the east side of the Sierra Madre Oriental near Veracruz, Mexico." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus similis - "...southeastern Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba south through most of North and South Dakota, western and central Nebraska, extreme eastern Wyoming, southeastern Montana, northeastern Colorado, and northwestern Minnesota." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus subcinctus - "...central Mexico in the area around and between Guadalajara, San Luis Potosi, and Mexico City." (B430.w2)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus yucatanicus - "...coastal plain of the Yucatan Peninsula from about Campeche to Rio Lagartos and inland to about Merida." (B430.w2)

Geographic Sympatry

  • "The range of this species overlaps that of seven other cottontails and six species of hares. No other cottontail occurs sympatrically with so many other leporids." (B430.w2)
  • Its range overlaps those of six other Sylvilagus species, and six species of Lepus. (B605.5.w5, J469.136.w1)

Introduced

  • This species has been widely introduced (B430.w2) in both North America and Europe. (B605.5.w5, B607.w20)
    • "It has been widely transplanted, and populations are now established in many parts of the United States that at one time had no eastern cottontails." (B430.w2)
    • "The eastern cottontail has been the subject of widespread introduction programs, especially in the eastern United States." (B605.5.w5)
    • This species has been "...transplanted in many areas in efforts to produce better hunting, and introduced populations are now established in Washington and Oregon." (B147)
    • In Europe, the eastern cottontail has been introduced in France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. (P6.4.w8)

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Conservation

Species variation

Notes

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information
Currently recognised subspecies include:
  • North of Mexico:
    • Sylvilagus floridanus floridanus including Sylvilagus floridanus ammophilus. (B430.w2, B605.5.w5, B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus alacer: including Sylvilagus floridanus mearnsi; Sylvilagus floridanus similis. (B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus chapmani: including Sylvilagus floridanus caniclunis; Sylvilagus floridanus llanensis; Sylvilagus floridanus simplicicanus. (B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus holzneri: including Sylvilagus floridanus durangae; Sylvilagus floridanus hesperius; Sylvilagus floridanus rigidus. (B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus mallurus: including Sylvilagus floridanus hitchensi; Sylvilagus floridanus sylvaticus. (B607.w20)
  • Mexico and Central America:
    • Sylvilagus floridanus aztecus: including Sylvilagus floridanus chiapensis. (B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus connectens: including Sylvilagus floridanus russatus. (B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus hondurensis: including Sylvilagus floridanus costaricensis. (B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus macrocorpus. (B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus orizabae: including Sylvilagus floridanus persultator; Sylvilagus floridanus restrictus; Sylvilagus floridanus subcinctus. (B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus yucatanicus. (B607.w20)
  • South of Isthmus of Panama:
    • Sylvilagus floridanus avius. (B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus cumanicus: including Sylvilagus floridanus continentis; Sylvilagus floridanus valenciae. (B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus margaritae. (B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus nigronuchalis. (B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus orinoci. (B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus purgatus. (B607.w20)
    • Sylvilagus floridanus superciliaris: including Sylvilagus floridanus boylei. (B607.w20)

NB: names in non-bold font are reported as synonyms for that particular subspecies from the reference B607.w20.

Previously recognised subspecies include:

  • Sylvilagus floridanus ammophilus. (B430.w2)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus cognatus. (B430.w2)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus floridanus, (B430.w2)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus paulsoni. (B430.w2, B605.5.w5)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus restrictur. (B430.w2)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus robustus. (B430.w2, B605.5.w5)
  • Sylvilagus floridanus nelsoni. (B605.5.w5)

Note:

  • The subspecies Sylvilagus floridanus ammophilus, Sylvilagus floridanus hitchensi, Sylvilagus floridanus avius, Sylvilagus floridanus margaritae and Sylvilagus floridanus nigronuchalis are insular subspecies, and are thought to have been introduced by man. (B605.5.w5)
  • Formerly included robustus [Sylvilagus robustus - Robust cottontail] and cognatus [Sylvilagus cognatus - Manzano mountain cottontail]. (B607.w20)
  • "...holzneri is provisionally retained as a subspecies of floridanus, since its relationship to Mexican populations of floridanus has not been reported yet." (B607.w20)
  • "Genetic studies of widely separated populations of the eastern cottontail indicate considerable intraspecific genetic variability within the species." (B605.5.w5)

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Conservation Status

Notes

WILD POPULATION - IMPORTANCE:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

GENERAL LEGISLATION: --

CITES LISTING: --

RED-DATA LIST STATUS:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • IUCN - Lower Risk (least concern). (W2.Apr08.w81)

THREATS: --

PEST STATUS / PEST POPULATIONS: --

CAPTIVE POPULATIONS: --

TRADE AND USE:

Specific Sylvilagus floridanus Information

  • Hunting. (B147)
  • This species is the most important game animal in the USA. (B605.5.w5)

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