eastern cottontail Sylvilagus floridanus
What is an Eastern Cottontail?
The eastern cottontail, also commonly known as a rabbit, is a mammal. Mammals have hair/fur, four limbs (arms/legs) and a large brain. They are warm-blooded, that is, they can keep their body temperature at the same level no matter what the outside temperature is. Females of most mammal species give birth to young that have developed inside a special organ called the uterus. Some mammal species lay eggs instead of having live birth, but none of these species live in Illinois. After birth, mammal young are fed for a time by milk produced in the female’s mammary glands.
What Does It Look Like?
The cottontail has rust-brown fur with black over most of the body. There is a patch of cinnamon-colored fur at the base of the neck. The fur covering the belly and throat is white. The tail is short and stubby with a white underside. The soles of the feet have hair on them. The ears are very large.
How Big Is It?
This mammal grows to a length of about 14 to 19 inches. It typically weighs two to three pounds.
Where Does It Live?
This species can be found throughout Illinois in weedy areas, briar patches, lawns, fence rows and around wooded areas.
How Does It Reproduce?
Mating occurs from February through September. These animals have a complex mating ritual that involves jumping and chasing. Cottontails are polygamous, meaning that they form bonds with more than one member of the opposite sex either for the duration of the breeding season or longer. The gestation period is about one month, and the female breeds again almost immediately after giving birth. She may produce three to seven litters per year. Four to six young make up the litter. Young are placed in a nest made of grass, hair and leaves on or in the ground. The mother comes to the nest only to nurse the young, about once or twice per day. The young leave the nest in about two weeks. Female cottontails can start breeding at about six months of age.
What Does It Eat?
The cottontail eats a variety of plant materials. In summer, it feeds on alfalfa, clovers, dandelions, grasses and other soft-stemmed plants. In winter, it eats buds, fruits, seeds, waste grain, fruits, berries and tree and shrub bark. It is a coprophage (eats some of its own solid wastes). It has two types of droppings: brown ones that have no nutrients; and black ones that are composed of partially digested food and thus contain many nutrients. The black ones are eaten during the day as the cottontail rests in a hidden area. This food source allows the cottontail to eat more food in a short period of time while being under less threat from predators.
Does Anything Eat It?
Yes! Many mammals (including humans and their pet cats and dogs), owls, hawks, crows and snakes eat cottontails.