The eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) is a New World cottontail rabbit, a member of the family Leporidae. It is the most common rabbit species in North America.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Lagomorpha
- Family: Leporidae
- Genus: Sylvilagus
- Species: S. floridanus
- Binomial name: Sylvilagus floridanus
The eastern cottontails is solitary and very territorial. It is mostly nocturnal, but it sometimes will come out in the early morning and at dusk and sometimes during the day on dark days. The eastern cottontail can leap distances of between 10 and 15 feet. It will sometimes stand on its hind feet to watch for predators like coyotes, foxes, weasels, eagles and hawks. When a predator is chasing it, the eastern cottontail will often leap from side to side to break its scent trail. It can run at speeds of up to 15 miles an hour.
The eastern cottontail feeds on a wide range of plant species. In the summer months, it mainly takes green vegetation such as grasses, clover and various weeds, but in the winter when these are scarce it will also eat woody material such as the bark, stems and buds of trees and shrubs. Like other rabbits and hares, the eastern cottontail produces two types of droppings. The first type, which is soft and green, is re-ingested so that the rabbit can digest it more thoroughly. The second type is small and hard and is not eaten, having had all the nutrients extracted from it.
Most foraging activity takes place at dawn and dusk, with the eastern cottontail resting under cover during the day. While resting, this species shelters in a ‘form’, which usually consists of a small depression in the soil beneath a brush pile, thicket or dense clump of grass, where the rabbit can remain hidden. The eastern cottontail may also shelter in the underground burrows of other animals during harsh winter weather.
Adult eastern cottontails reach a length of 395 to 477 mm. A dense, buffy brown underfur and longer, coarser gray- and black-tipped guard hairs cover the back of the eastern cottontail. Its rump and flanks are gray, and it has a prominent rufous patch on its nape.
The ventral surface is white. The eastern cottontail shows the white underside of its short tail when it is running. This rabbit undergoes two molts per year. The spring molt, lasting from mid-April to mid-July, leaves a short summer coat that is more brown. From mid-September to the end of October, the change to longer, grayer pelage occurs for winter. The eastern cottontail has four pairs of mammary glands. It also has distinctive large eyes for its size.
Eastern Cottontails are territorial, especially the females during mating season. Neither sex ventures very far from their preferred home turf. They’re active year-round and prefer edge environments — open areas flanked by dense cover, such as meadows, farmlands, the edge of swamps and marshes, residential areas and forest clearings.
They travel a route of relative safety by, for example, skirting the edge of a woodpile and then following along the front of some thickets, then brushing past the grasses and finally pushing through the hedgerow to the meadow. City life has put these fragile animals at a bit of a disadvantage against predators because of the lack of thickets and heavy grasses.
Eastern cottontail images