Published on February 9, 2013 by Amy
Eastern Cottontails are the best-known and most widely distributed rabbit of North America.
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Eastern Cottontail rabbits have long ears and a short, fluffy tall. Their hind legs are longer than their front legs with hind feet that are significantly larger than the front feet. The upper body is usually reddish brown with the underparts white, including the underside of the tall. There is a rusty colored patch on the nape of the neck and often a white spot on the forehead. Eastern Cottontails usually weigh from 2 to 4 pounds and have a total length of 12 to almost 20 inches.
Eastern Cottontails are herbivorous, eating a wide variety of plant materials. In spring and summer they usually feed on herbaceous plants such as succulent wild grasses and clover, but will also eat garden vegetables if available. In winter, Cottontails may eat woody plants including staghorn sumac, red maple, apple, and blackberry.
You may see a cottontail at any time of the day or night but the rabbit is most active at dusk and dawn. Its activity during midday is greatly decreased unless the sky is heavily overcast.
Different behavior patterns are used by a threatened rabbit. If the danger is far away, it may freeze and remain motionless, using its background as camouflage. When the threat is near, the rabbit moves quickly to nearby thick cover such as a thicket or brushpile. When comered, it may thump its pursuer with a hind foot to stun it and then make a break for freedom. Arabbit may make a shrill, high-pitched squeal when it is captured.
A cottontail may easily go into shock when captured. A person who finds it necessary to handle a couontail should cover the captured or injured rabbit’s eyes and handle it very slowly and carefully.
A cottontail produces two types of droppings — hard and brown or soft and green. The softer pellets are eaten again to further break down food. This is called coprophagy.
The Eastern Cottontail is a prolific breeder. Although females are capable of breeding during their first year, most have their first litters during their second summer. Litter sizes up to l0 have been reported, but typical litters number from 3 to 5 young, born after a gestation period of about 28 days. In some warmer climates, Cottontails may breed year round (some females have been reported to have up to 7 litters a year!), but in the Carolinas the breeding season is limited from late winter to fall. Cottontails construct their nests by digging a shallow depression in the ground and then lining it with grasses and other plants, along with fur plucked from the female’s belly. Young Cottontails are blind at birth and their eyes remain closed until they are about a week old. Baby rabbits leave the nest and can survive on their own by the time they are 3 to 4 weeks old. Eastern Cottontails are most likely to be found In and around old, overgrown fields, brushy forest edges and other habitats with mixtures of herbaceous and shrubby plants. They can also be found living in close proximity to humans as long as there is adequate escape cover available.
Despite their speed and skill in evading their enemies, Cottontails are taken In large numbers by foxes, bobcats, several species of hawks and owls, and large snakes. The Eastern Cottontail rabbit is also the most widely hunted game animal in the eastern United States. Domestic dogs and cats catch and kill many cottontails, especially the young. Although Cottontail populations fluctuate widely from place to place and from year to year, healthy populations can usually be maintained as long as there is suitable habitat.