Appalachian cottontail

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Appalachian cottontail
Sylvilagus obscurus 3.jpg
In the Appalachians of Virginia
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Lagomorpha
Family: Leporidae
Genus: Sylvilagus
Species: S. obscurus
Binomial name
Sylvilagus obscurus
Chapman, Cramer, Dippenaar, & Robinson, 1992
Appalachian Cottontail area.png
Appalachian cottontail range

The Appalachian cottontail (Sylvilagus obscurus) is a species of cottontail rabbit in the family Leporidae. It is a rare species found in the upland areas of the eastern United States, which was only recognized as separate from the New England cottontail in 1992.[1]

Brief Description[edit]

The Appalachian Cottontail or Sylvilagus obscurus is a small rabbit inhabiting mostly mountainous regions in the eastern U.S. ranging anywhere from Pennsylvania to South Carolina and being most prominent in the Appalachians.[2] S. obscurus is better adapted to colder climates than their distant relative, the eastern cottontail. S. obscurus is better found as a light-yellow brown, mixed with black on the dorsal side, having a brown and red patch mixed on the neck. Their ventral side is mostly white.[3] The Appalachian cottontail and New England Cottontail are not easily distinguished in the field but and are most easily identified geographically. Cottontails found south or west of the Hudson River are considered Appalachian, those found north and east are considered New England. The species can otherwise be identified by chromosome number and skull measurements.[5] Female Appalachian cottontails are typically larger than males with reproductive needs being the most likely cause. The weight of the Appalachian Cottontail can range from as little as 756 grams up to as much as 1533 grams. The average length is roughly around 408mm. The lifespan of S. obscurus is rather short and lives less than a year in some cases.[6]


Sylvilagus obscurus is typically active around dusk or at dawn. During the day they typically avoid predators by sheltering by under logs or in burrows. Hibernation does not play a factor as the rabbit being active year-round.[7] It is believed that there is a social hierarchy within the species especially when it comes to mating, in which the males assert their dominance by fighting to gain mating priority.[8]


Little is known about the reproduction habits of the Appalachian cottontail but much can be based on knowledge of the genus Sylvilagus and the reproductive habits of most rabbits. Typically, they are inactive during midwinter, but as the nights shorten and the day lengthens, sexual activity develops strongly amongst Sylvilagus; the reason for this being that the day length directly correlates with stimulation of FSH in the female’s blood which then in turn stimulates the follicles to develop ova.[9] This puts the female in "heat" until reproduction occurs, however there is no particular seasonal cycle as the female can remain in this state, deemed pre-estrus, for a while. The breeding season for the Appalachian Cottontail has been found to be between February and October. Once fertilization occurs, the gestation period is about 28 days. Before birth, the female will begin to dig a nesting depression.[10] She then pulls out her fur from her underbelly and gathers berries and leaves in order to provide a lining for the nest. This hair-pulling also allows for the nipples to be exposed for the offspring to nurse. The offspring, when birthed, will live in the nest with vegetation until they are independents for about 3–4 weeks. Typically, a mother of the genus Sylvilagus will care for her young and visit the nest twice a day to nurse her offspring. An adult female can also breed up to 3-4 times per season and have roughly 3-4 offspring per litter.[11]

Habitat and Food Habits[edit]

Appalachian cottontails are found in mountainous areas, typically between 610 to 762 meters of elevation.[12] The Appalachian mountains are a great example of the type of habitat S. obscurus would be found in as it provides cover and vegetation such as blackberry vines, greenbriar, and mountain laurel.[4] Often this is what the Appalachian cottontail feeds on as well as barks of trees, twigs, red maple, aspen, and black cherry. Usually its diet will consist of twigs, leaves, and fruits. Coprophagy or, the eating of one’s feces is often what this animal will partake in as it is useful for it to take up certain vitamins and nutrients that weren’t digested well in the first pass of digestion. This type of diet is found in most of the genus of Sylvilagus.


The Appalachian cottontail are adapted to playing the role of prey and because of this they typically have heightened senses of smell, hearing, and sight. This allows for the rabbit to notice predators and react quickly to threats.[13] Mothers have been observed performing a grunting sound in order to alert offspring to the presence of predators. Their senses are also used to find potential mates, and they have been discovered squealing at times when mating occurs.[8]


There are several threats that have endangered the survival of S. obscurus. These threats involve the destruction and maturation of habitat, as well as habitat fragmentation which is due to urban development. Once fragmentation has occurred the lack of cover exposes the cottontail to predators, increase the strain on the species. Hunting is a common reason for deaths of many cottontails but is mostly due to lack of knowledge by the hunter. The rarity of this species and lack of knowledge also contribute to this species being threatened because they are so secretive and rarely found in the wild.[14]

Family and Genus[edit]

Sylvilagus obscurus is a part of the family Leporidae. This family consists of 2 families, 12 genera, and 62 species of lagomorphs. Lagomorphs are characterized by 2 pair of incisors. They are herbivores but have been seen to practice coprophagy. As with other Lagomorphs, their tails are highly reduced, their jaw is perforated, and the soles of their feet are densely furred.[15] Sylvilagus is derived from Latin "sylva" and "lagos" which means "hare of the woods." [16] This genus consists of 13 different species which is located throughout North America and Central America and can even extend into the northern half of South America.[17] There are many distant relatives to Sylvilagus obscurus that are located within the same genus such as Sylvilagus robustus which is located in the Guadalupe Mountains in Mexico at elevations as high as 1,400m and shares similar woodland habitats with S. obscurus.[18]


  1. ^ a b Barry, R. & Lazell, J. (2008). "Sylvilagus obscurus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 1 February 2010. 
  2. ^ a b {{Bunch, Mary, Rickie Davis, Stanlee Miller, and Rob Harrison. "Department of Natural Resources."Appalachian Cottontail: Sylvilagus obscurus. n. page. Print. <>.}}
  3. ^ a b {{ Bunch, Mary, Rickie Davis, Stanlee Miller, and Rob Harrison. "Department of Natural Resources."Appalachian Cottontail: Sylvilagus obscurus. n. page. Print. <>.}}
  4. ^ a b {{Moseley, Kurtis, W. Mark Ford, John Edwards, and Michael Strager. "USDA." A Multi-Criteria Decisionmaking Approach for Management Indicator Species Selection on the Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia. (2010): 1-26. Print. <> }}
  5. ^ a b {{Russell, Kevin, Christopher Moorman, and David Guynn. "The Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society." Appalachian Cottontails, Sylvilagus obscurus From the South Carolina Mountains with Observations on Habitat Use. 115.3 (1999): 140-144. Print. <>}}
  6. ^ a b {{Chapman, J.A., and K.L. Cramer. "North American Mammals." Museum of Natural History. Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Web. 30 Oct 2012. <>.}}
  7. ^ a b {{Joly, Kyle, and Wayne Myers. "Biological Conservation." Patterns of mammalian species richness and habitat associations in Pennsylvania. 99.2 253-260. Print. <>}}
  8. ^ a b c d {{Cook, J. 2011. "Sylvilagus obscurus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. 30 October 2012 <>.}}
  9. ^ a b {{Litvalis, John, and Walter Jakubas. "New England Cottontail Assessment." New England Cottontail Assessment. (2004): 1-73. Print.<>}}
  10. ^ a b {{"Cotton Tail Rabbit: Sylvilagus floridanus." National Geographic . 2012: n. page. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. <>.}}
  11. ^ a b {{Hamilton, William, and John Whitaker. Mammals of Eastern United States. New York: 1998. 166-200. Print. <> }}
  12. ^ a b {{Boyce, Kelly, and Ronald Barry. "Northeastern Naturalist." Season Home Range and Diurnal Movements of Sylvilaus obscurus (Appalachian Cottonail) at Dolly Sods, West Virginia. 14.1 (2007): n. page. Print.<>}}
  13. ^ a b {{Ford, Mark, Brian Chaman, and Margaret Trani. "Introduction of Mammals to the South." Introduction to Mammals of the South. n.d. n. page. Print. <>}}
  14. ^ a b {{Barry, R. & Lazell, J. 2008. Sylvilagus obscurus. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. <>.}}
  15. ^ a b {{Pekala, Susan. A Guide to Pocono Mammals for Educators . East Stroudburg University , 2004, Page 18. 1-114. Print. <> }}
  16. ^ a b {{Cervantes, Fernando, and Consuelo Lorenzo. "Mammalian Species." Sylvilagus insonus . 568. (1997): 1-4. Print. <>}}
  17. ^ a b {{Halanych, Kenneth, and Terrence Robinson. "Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution."Phylogenetic Relationships of Cottontails (Sylvilagus, Lagomorpha) Congruence of 12s rDNA and Cytogenetic DNA. 7.3 (1997): 294-302. Print. <> }}
  18. ^ a b {{Lee, Dana, Russell Pfau, and Loren Ammerman. "Journal of Mammalogy." Taxonomic status of the Davis Mountains cottontail, Sylvilagus robustus, revealed by amplified fragment length polymorphism. 91.6 (2010): 1473-1483. Print.<> }}