Sunday, April 29, 2012

Facts about Eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus)

Eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) belong to the
family Leporidae and genus Sylvilagus. Almost all members of this
genus have a very small tail, with a puffy white underside, which
resemble a cotton ball. The name 'cottontail' was derived from this
feature. These rabbits belong to the Americas and are commonly found
in North America.

Physical Features

Eastern cottontail rabbits have a compact body with long hind legs,
long ears, large brown eyes and a short tail. The fur of these animals
is either reddish brown or grayish-brown in color. During winters, the
color changes to more grayish than brown. The fur around their nose,
underside of the tail and belly, is white in color. Almost all of them
have a gray patch around the neck. An average eastern cottontail
rabbit can weigh between 2 to 4 pounds. The young ones of eastern
cottontail rabbits, called 'kits', have an additional white mark on
their forehead, which fades out with age.

Distribution and Habitat

These rabbits are mostly found in southern Canada, eastern Mexico,
central America, northern regions of South America and eastern and
south-central United States. They can be commonly seen in New Mexico,
Arizona and mid-west North America. Nowadays, there have been reports
of occasional sightings of this rabbit in New England too. They can
live in a variety of habitats, but they prefer woody, shrubby areas
and open country. It is also observed that they have a preference to
areas near a water source, like ponds or streams. They like places
with dense vegetation, which helps them in finding cover.

Dietary Habits and Behavior

Eastern cottontail rabbits are herbivores, who love to feed on grass,
bark, twigs, fruits and vegetables. During winters, they eat the tree
bark of brambles, birch, oak, dogwood and maple trees, buds and twigs,
whereas their summer and spring diet includes grass, fruits,
vegetables, other green vegetation and clovers. They are nocturnal
animals, who are active at dawn and dusk. It is difficult to chase
them as they run in a zigzag manner to confuse predators. They can
leap up to 15 feet and can run at the speed of 18 miles per hour. This
ability helps them to protect themselves from predators. Sometimes,
they stand on their hind legs to keep an eye out for predators.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

The mating season of these rabbits is from February to September. It
is observed that they perform a mating dance too. The female builds a
nest in the ground with grass and fur. The gestation period is around
a month and a female can give birth to a maximum of nine kits. The
females may mate soon after giving birth and can breed four to five
times a year. They feed the young ones twice a day, for a period of
three months. The kits leave the nest after seven weeks and reach
maturity after three to four months.

They are proficient breeders, and can produce many offspring. They are
preyed upon by hawks, barn owls, opossums, coyotes, foxes, weasels and
many other animals. Humans also hunt them for their fur and meat. They
are also trapped and killed for damaging farms and gardens. They have
a varying population, depending on various habitats. Any disturbance
or loss of habitat, may adversely affect the population of these
beautiful creatures.

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