Cottontail rabbits are a wild species native to North America. This species is a bit stocky in build with large hind feet, long ears and a fluffy white tail that has given the rabbit its name.
The coat is agouti, ranging from a reddish brown to grayish brown. The belly is white. Both the Eastern Cottontail and the New England Cottontail look like this; the only difference is a slight variation in coloration. An interesting note is about half of the Eastern Cottontail population sports a star shaped white marking on their forehead. This is not seen in the New England Cottontail.
New England Cottontail rabbits can be found ranging west to the Hudson River and south following the Appalachian Mountains, while the Eastern Cottontail ranges throughout the eastern United States and southern Canada down through eastern Mexico. Some specimens are found in Central America. Small populations can also be found in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
Unlike European rabbits, cottontails do not dig burrows of their own. They will dig a small depression to make a nest or use an abandoned burrow from another animal. Nesting occurs from March through fall. Litters contain 3 to 8 kits. Does will have 2 to 4 litters per year. Although born blind and helpless, young kits are ready to leave the nest at 2 to 3 weeks of age and are completely independent by the age of 4 or 5 weeks.
Cottontails are most active at night, remaining hidden in the brush during the day. During bad weather, they may seek out an old burrow. Female rabbits can range up to 3 acres while males will range up to 8 acres.
Cottontail rabbits are known for their keen hearing and sight. One of their best methods of self-preservation is to freeze in place. They will run if a predator passes too closely. When frightened, a cottontail can run up to 18 miles per hour for short distances. They are good swimmers, though they prefer to avoid the water if possible.
While rabbits are generally thought to be very quiet animals, they have an extensive communication system. Thumping their hind feet can express dominance or suggest a warning. Cottontails also purr, growl and grunt when they play, fight and breed. When captured by a predator, many rabbits will scream.
Many people consider the cottontail to be a nuisance. They are known to feed on shrubs, garden crops and trees. Mesh fences can be used to keep rabbits out of gardens. Since they don't climb or dig, they are usually sufficient. Trees can be protected by wrapping wire mesh or plastic tubing around the tree trunk. Repellents only offer a limited respite from the rabbits.
The two cottontail rabbits varieties are competing with each other in New England. The Eastern Cottontail was introduced to the area in the late 1800s and has since expanded its range. It is competing with the native New England cottontails and winning. Today, the Eastern cottontail is the dominant species in New England.
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