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Eastern Cottontail - Early Childhood Edition

eastern cottontail Sylvilagus floridanus
 
The Basics
Classification:
The eastern cottontail, also commonly known as a rabbit, is a mammal.
 
Appearance:
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 and hindlegs are very large.
 
Size: 
This mammal grows to a length of about 14 to 19 inches. It typically weighs two to three pounds.
 
Location:
This species can be found throughout Illinois in weedy areas, briar patches, lawns, fence rows and around wooded areas.
 
Food:
In summer, it feeds on grasses and other soft-stemmed plants. In winter, it eats buds, fruits, seeds, waste grain, fruits, berries and tree and shrub bark. It also eats some of its own solid wastes!
 
Reproduction:
Mating occurs from February through September. These animals have a complex mating ritual that involves jumping and chasing. 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.
 
Food Source:
Many mammals (including humans and their pet cats and dogs), owls, hawks, crows and snakes eat cottontails.
 
What Else?
The cottontail moves by hopping.
Cottontails do make some sounds to communicate and thump their hindfeet as a warning of danger.
Most cottontails live a little more than a year.
 
Can I Hunt It?
The eastern cottontail may be legally hunted and trapped in Illinois following all relevant laws and regulations.

 Educator Suggestions

​1. Watch the Eastern Cottontail video podcast with the students. Discuss with them the information shown above and in the video.
 
2. Eastern cottontails are found throughout the state including, in urban areas. They are generally active in the early morning and late evening so observing them with the students may not be a viable option. You could, however, take the students on a walk at any time of day to look for signs of cottontails. Use resources such as those found in the Illinois Wild Mammals trunk for loan to find photos and illustrations of cottontail droppings (solid waste), tracks and evidence of feeding. You can show these photos/illustrations to the students before you take the walk so that they know what to look for.
 
3. Use the information presented above and the following suggestions to help you meet some of the Benchmarks of the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards. Please do not be limited by these suggestions or by these Standards. The information can be used in several subject areas.
 
Goal 11, Learning Standard 11.A: Develop beginning skills in the use of science and engineering practices, such as observing, asking questions, solving problems and drawing conclusions.
 
Have the students develop questions about eastern cottontails that were not answered in the text or video. Let them build models or perform experiments to represent their ideas. If applicable, let them test the ideas and collect data. Involve math and computational skills. Describe the results and provide explanations.
 
Example 
Students want to know where cottontails go during the day.
Because eastern cottontails are active at in the early morning and late evening, it will be difficult for the students to observe eastern cottontails during the school day unless you take them to a location where captive eastern cottontails are present. Let them predict where they think cottontails might go during the day to rest and hide. Use videos, books or ask an expert who can answer their questions about the behavior of eastern cottontails.
 
Goal 12, Learning Standard 12.A: Understand that living things grow and change.
Goal 12, Learning Standard 12.B: Understand that living things rely on the environment and/or others to live and grow.
Use the images from this month’s Kids for Conservation® edition (regular version) and the video podcast about the Eastern Cottontail to show students some of the aspects of the life of this species. Talk about what cottontails need to survive and where they might obtain those items. Ask them to imagine life as a cottontail and compare it to their daily life as a human. How are they the same? How are they different? How do humans affect cottontails? How do cottontails affect humans? 
 
Goal 13, Learning Standard 13.A: Understand rules to follow when investigating and exploring.
Goal 13, Learning Standard 13.B: Use tools and technology to assist with science and engineering investigations.
See the Field Trip Tips Web page for information about taking students on a field trip.
 
Depending on what questions the students develop and test, they may need to use scientific and technological tools to help them discover the answers.