Eastern Cottontail: (Sylvilagus floridanus)
The eastern cottontail (sylvilagus floridanus) more commonly known as cottontail or rabbit; is a member of the leporidae family. Eastern cottontails are small in size, averaging between 14 to 17 inches long, weighing between 2 to 4 pounds. Although the females tends to be heavier than the males.
Eastern cottontails color patterns consist of short gray – brown or a red – brown fur. The cottontails under- fur is white. It has large brown eyes, long ears and a short fluffy white tail that has a rusty color patch on it, and large back feet. Eastern cottontails are found throughout North American, including Florida, however they are not found in New England. Cottontails can be encountered in a variety of areas. They are primarily seen and inhibit areas that have weeds, tall grass, fields, short brush and pastures.
Cottontails are strictly vegetarians, primarily consuming a variety of foods, such as bark, twigs, leaves, plants, grass seed, fruit, buds, flowers, sedge fruits, rush seeds, grains and vegetables.
Eastern cottontails are solitary, very territorial, and typically inhabit one home in its lifetime. They are mainly nocturnal, sometimes it will come out between dawn and dusk. They also might be out on days when its raining, foggy or overcast. Cottontails are heavily preyed upon. In most cases, 75% or more of cottontails are killed by their predators, which include foxes, bobcats, skunks, snakes and several other animals. When cottontails become frightened or alerted they stand on their back feet and look for potential threats. When its spotted they quickly start leaping side to side or running in zigzag pattern breaking its scent trail. Cottontails leap distances of 10 to 15 feet. They can also run at speeds of 15 mph. Cottontails do not burrow, instead they construct nests in a depression usually in clumps of grass or semi – thick under – brush on the ground. Cottontails
communicate by thumbing their feet, squealing, squeaking, grunting or high pitched scream.
Eastern cottontails can mate as young as 3 months old. They are also capable of mating year round, but usually have 3 to 4 litters a year. Mating usually occurs in February through September, with the young born between March and September. Its gestation period lasts approximately 28 days. The average litter size is 4 to 5, but it can have up to 9 young which are called kits. When the young are born they have very fine fur and are blind which start to open around 4 to 7 days. They communicate with their mother by grunting. When the young are about 12 to 16 days old they begin to move out of the nest traveling short distances. The mother has them completely weaned by the time they are 5 or 6 weeks old, at which time they begin to leave the nest for good.
Eastern cottontails are known to carry parasites such as the bot – fly and such disease as tularemia, which will kill the cottontail within 10 days.
Eastern cottontails can cause damage to plants, shrubs, gardens and crops by eating them.