|06/15/2012 Picture Notes: I captured this Desert Cottontail during an early morning hike in the Duck Creek Trail area as it passed along the Las Vegas Wash, just south of the Clark County Wetlands Park. These little fellas were everywhere; we must have seen at least a half dozen darting in and out of their shady resting spots as we walked the roads. Though most of them quickly darted away, I was finally able to get pictures of this one from a distance using a 200mm telephoto lens. Because I was hurrying and shooting "handheld", hoping to capture a picture before he ran away, the focus is not the best.|
|Description: The Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii), is also known as Audubon's cottontail. Cottontails are named after their rounded tail with white fur, which is shaped like a cottony ball (Fig. 01). The desert portion of their common name arises from their distribution across the arid lands of the American Southwest. It can be found throughout the western United States from eastern Montana to western Texas, and in northern and central Mexico. Westwards its range extends to central Nevada and southern California. |
Adults are about 14 inches tall, between 13 to 17 inches long and weigh up to 3.3 lbs. Their ears are generally between 3.1 to 3.9 inchs long and are more often carried erect. Their hind feet are quite large, about 3.0 inchs in length (Fig. 03). Their fur is a light grayish-brown in color, with almost white fur on the belly. Females tend to be larger than the males, but have much smaller home ranges, about 1 acre, compared with about 15 acres for a male.
Cottontail rabbits are very prolific and those feeding on green growth may have up to five litters of two to four young a year. The young are reared in nests which are made in pear-shaped excavations in the ground with the entrances only about 5 cm in diameter. Below, they are flared out to a width of 15-25 cm; the depth varies from 15 to 25 cm. They are lined with a layer of dried grasses, and the inside is filled entirely with rabbit fur in which the young repose. The female lies or squats over the opening to nurse her young, which are blind and hairless at birth. By 10 days of age the eyes have opened and within another 4 days the young are able to move outside the nest, although they remain near the nest for about 3 weeks. Desert cottontails rarely stray far from their natal or birthplace area. Although they are able to breed throughout the year, most young rabbits are produced in spring when the new growth of plants is most available. At other times of the year, selected foods include twigs, newly emerging grasses, weeds, and even cacti.
Cottontails rarely drink, and free water does not appear to be a requirement for either their survival or reproduction. It gets 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. The desert cottontail is not usually active in the middle of the day, but it can be seen in the early morning or late afternoon. It mainly eats grass, but will eat many other plants, herbs, vegetables and even cacti. It gets 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.
The cottontail's normal anti-predator behavior is to run away in evasive zigzags reaching speeds of over 19 mph. Against small predators or other desert cottontails, it will defend itself by slapping with a front paw and nudging; usually preceded by a hop straight upwards as high as two feet when threatened or taken by surprise. Cottontails are preyed upon by a number of predators, including golden and bald eagles, great horned owls, ferruginous hawks, badgers, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, domestic dogs and cats and humans. Their life span is 2 years or less.