Eastern Cottontail

Sylvilagus floridanus
Leporidae (rabbits and hares) in the order Lagomorpha

The cottontail is a medium-sized mammal with long ears, large hind legs, shorter front legs, a short fluffy tail and soft fur. The upperparts vary from reddish to grayish brown sprinkled with black; the underparts are grayish white except for a brownish chest; the tops of the hind feet are tan to whitish.

Total length: 14–19 inches; tail length: 1½–3 inches; weight: 2–3¼ pounds.
Habitat and conservation: 
Cottontails prefer open brushy or forest-border cover. While they may venture into the open, they usually don’t go far from brushy or dense, weedy cover. The cottontail's usual home is a resting place or form concealed in a dense clump of grass, under a brush pile or in a thicket. Providing good habitat is the key to increasing cottontail populations. To discourage them in gardens and other plantings, try rabbitproof wire and chemical repellents. Cottontails are an important game species.
Rabbits feed almost entirely on plants. The three most preferred foods during all seasons are bluegrass, wheat and white clover. Other choice foods, when available, are red clover, Korean lespedeza, small and common crabgrass, timothy and common chess. Some sedges, forbs and cultivated plants also are relished. During heavy snow cover, they eat buds, twigs, bark and sprouts of shrubs, vines and trees to survive.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Common in most years, but numbers fluctuate with availability of cover and habitat. Numbers have been declining since 1955 due to habitat loss.
Life cycle: 
Breeding season is from mid-February through September. A female could produce eight litters per year, though the average is fewer. Nests are shallow cavities in the ground lined with grass and fur. There are 1–9 young per litter; at birth, they are about 5 inches long, mostly naked, with eyes and ears closed. After a week, they become completely furred and their eyes and ears open. They leave the nest 13–16 days after birth. Most breed for the first time in the spring following their birth.
Human connections: 
Up to 2 million rabbits are shot for sport annually in Missouri. At 1½ pounds of meat per rabbit, this is a sizeable amount. The fur, however, is not durable and thus has little commercial value.
Ecosystem connections: 
Many wild carnivores feed on cottontails, and when this source of food is readily available, predation is less on other game species and livestock. By converting plant food into animal matter, rabbits constitute an important link in the food chain of life.
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