|Desert Cottontail range|
The desert cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii), also known as Audubon's cottontail, is a New World cottontail rabbit, and a member of the family Leporidae. Unlike the European rabbit, they do not form social burrow systems, but compared with some other leporids, they are extremely tolerant of other individuals in their vicinity.
Cottontail lagomorphs give birth to their kits in burrows that have been vacated by other mammals. They sometimes cool off, or take refuge in scratched out shallow created depressions of their own doing, using their front paws like a back hoe. They are not usually active in the middle of the day, but can be observed foraging in the early morning, and early evening. Cottontails are rarely found out of their burrows looking for food on windy days, because the wind interferes with their hearing capabilities. Hearing an oncoming predator is their primary defense mechanism.
The lifespan of a cottontail that reaches adulthood averages less than two years, depending on the location. Unfortunately for the cottontail, almost every living carnivorous creature larger or faster than the Lagomorph is its predator. Some predators, like snakes for example, are well aware of the local real estate used and reused by the cottontails, and make a meal of the young at will, with little or no resistance by the mother rabbit. She is defenseless against any and all that would get close enough to eat her or her young. Though cottontails are very sexually active creatures, and mated pairs have several offspring many times in all seasons, it is more likely than not that none will survive to adulthood. Those that do manage to avoid being eaten, grow very quickly and are considered full grown adults at three months.
The desert cottontail is quite similar in appearance to the European rabbit, though its ears are larger and are more often carried erect. It is also social among its peers, often gathering in small groups to feed. Like all cottontail rabbits, the desert cottontail has a greyish-brown, rounded tail with a broad white edge and white underside, which is visible as it runs away. It also has white fur on the belly. Adults are 36 to 42 cm (14 to 17 in) long and weigh anywhere from 700 to 1,200 g (1.5 to 2.6 lb). The tail is 36 to 43 cm (14 to 17 in), ears are 3 to 6 cm (1.2 to 2.4 in) long and the hind feet are large, about 7 to 9 cm (2.8 to 3.5 in) in length. There is little sexual dimorphism, but females tend to be larger than the males, but have much smaller home ranges, about 4,000 square metres (1 acre) compared with about 60,000 square metres (15 acres) for a male.
Distribution and habitat
The desert cottontail is found throughout the Western United States from eastern Montana to western Texas, and in Northern and Central Mexico. It's eastern range extends barely into the Great Plains. Westwards its range extends to central Nevada and southern California and Baja California, touching the Pacific Ocean. It is found at heights of up to 1,830 m (6,000 ft). It is particularly associated with the dry near-desert grasslands of the American southwest, though it is also found in less arid habitats such as pinyon-juniper forest. It is also frequently found in the riparian zones in arid regions.
The Desert Cottontail mainly eats forbs and grass, which constitutes 80% of it's diet. It also eats many other plants, herbs, vegetables and even cacti. They also feed on the leaves and peas of mesquite, barks, fallen fruit, the juicy pads of prickly pear and twigs of shrubs. It rarely needs to drink, getting its water mostly from the plants it eats or from dew. Like most lagomorphs, it is coprophagic, re-ingesting and chewing its own feces: this allows more nutrition to be extracted.
Unlike the squirrel and chipmunk that eat sitting up on their hind legs and can hold food with their front paws, while spinning it in circles to devour it quickly, the desert cottontail, like all cottontails, eats on all fours. It can only use its nose to move and adjust the position of the food that it places directly in front of its front paws on the ground. The cottontail rabbit will turn the food with its nose to find the cleanest part of the vegetation (free of sand and inedible parts) to begin its meal. The only time a cottontail uses its front paws to enable eating is when vegetation is above its head on a living plant. The cottontail will lift its paw to bend the branch to bring the food within reach.
Predators and threats
Many desert animals prey on cottontails, including birds of prey, mustelids, the coyote, the bobcat, the lynx, wolves, mountain lions, snakes, weasels, humans, and even squirrels, should a cottontail be injured or docile from illness. Alien species, such as cats and dogs, are also known predators, and also pose a threat. Southwestern Native Americans hunted them for meat but also used their fur and hides. It is also considered a game species, due to which it is hunted for sport. The desert cottontail's normal behavior upon spotting a potential predator is to freeze in place in an attempt to avoid being detected. If it determines that it is in danger, it will flee the area by hopping away in a zigzag pattern. Cottontails can reach speeds of over 30 km/h (19 mph). When defending itself against small predators or other desert cottontails, it will nudge with its nose, or slap with its front paws, usually preceded by a hop straight upwards as high as two feet when threatened or taken by surprise.
Habitat loss due to land clearing and cattle grazing may severely affect the population of the desert cottontail. Human-induced fires are also a potential threat for desert cottontail populations. Another factor is its competition with the black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus), because both have the same diet, and share the same habitat. When a season has been particularly dry, there is less plant life to go around. The cottontail does not fear the jackrabbit, in fact the jackrabbit is very skittish and will retreat from a confrontation in most instances. However, the black-tailed jackrabbit is much bigger, and consumes much more food at eating times. That means in dry periods, there is sometimes not enough food to sustain a robust cottontail population.
Status and conservation
Since 1996, the desert cottontail is considered in the Least concern category of the IUCN Red List of Endangered species and does not appear on the state or federal list of endangered species. The desert cottontail is considered a game species in the United States by individual state wildlife agencies. It is also not considered to be threatened by the state game agencies in the United States, due to it's common availability throughout most of its range in Mexico. None of the twelve subspecies are known to be under threat and no new conservation measures are needed.
California High Desert cottontail on alert
Wild desert cottontail stretching, Joshua Tree National Park
- Hoffman, R.S.; Smith, A.T. (2005). "Order Lagomorpha". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 208. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- Mexican Association for Conservation; Study of Lagomorphs (AMCELA); Romero Malpica, F.J. & Rangel Cordero, H. (2008). "Sylvilagus audubonii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 1 February 2010.
- "Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii)". tpwd.texas.gov. Archived from the original on 2017-01-11. Retrieved 2017-06-24.
- "Rabbits and Hares".
- "Desert cttontail".
- "Sylvilagus floridanus".
- Reid, Fiona (2006). A Field Guide to Mammals of North America, North of Mexico. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 0395935962.
- Larsen, Caryla J. (1993). Report to the Fish and Game Commission: Status Review of the Riparian Brush Rabbit (Sylvilagus Bachmani Riparius) in California. Wildlife Management Division, Nongame Bird and Mammal Section.
- Armstrong, David M.; Fitzgerald, James P.; Meaney, Carron A. (2010-12-21). Mammals of Colorado, Second Edition. University Press of Colorado. ISBN 9781607320487.
- "Desert cottontail rabbit". Nevada Department of Wildlife. Retrieved 5 January 2013.
- Romero Malpica, F.J.; Rangel Cordero, H. (2008). "Sylvilagus audubonii (Audubon's Cottontail, Desert Cottontail)". www.iucnredlist.org. Archived from the original on 2016-11-14. Retrieved 2017-06-23.
- Chapman, Joseph A.; Willner, Gale R. (September 1978). "Mammalian Species: Sylvilagus Audubonii" (PDF). American Society of Mammalogists (106): 1–4.
- Chapman, Joseph A.; Flux, John E. C. (1990). Rabbits, Hares and Pikas: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN. ISBN 9782831700199.
- Ariz, Tucson (2000). A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520219809.
- Cunningham, William P. (2003). Environmental encyclopedia. Gale. ISBN 9780787654863.
- Schmidly, David J.; Bradley, Robert D. (2016-08-09). The Mammals of Texas. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9781477310038.
- Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station Units 1-3, Construction: Environmental Impact Statement. 1975.
- Lumpkin, Susan; Seidensticker, John (2011-03-01). Rabbits: The Animal Answer Guide. JHU Press. ISBN 9781421401263.
- "Small mammals" (PDF).
- "Eastern Cottontail".
- Pryor, Kimberley Jane (2010). Tricky Behavior. Marshall Cavendish. ISBN 9780761444251.
- Lauenroth, W. K.; Burke, Ingrid C. (2008-08-28). Ecology of the Shortgrass Steppe: A Long-Term Perspective. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 9780195135824.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sylvilagus audubonii.|