Mexican Cottontail

Last Updated: March 29, 2021

Curiosity might strike you in the spring months as you see cute little Mexican cottontails hop around the yard. Since they are so intriguing, it’s only natural to wonder if you can domesticate this wild bunny. After all, you could have your very own Peter Cottontail, right?

We’re not trying to burst your bubble, but Mexican cottontails don’t make the best pets. For the sake and preservation of the animal, they need to live in the wild with their rabbit families. If you found a wounded wild rabbit or litter, we can discuss your options for caring for the rabbits in those special circumstances.divider-rabbitpaw1

Quick Facts about the Mexican Cottontail

Species Name: Sylvilagus cunicularius
Family: Leporidae
Care Level: Expert
Temperament: Wild
Color Form: Brown, red, white
Lifespan: 15 months
Size: 5.5 pounds
Diet: Herbivore
Compatibility: None

Mexican Cottontail Overview

Mexican cottontails, as their name would imply, encompass the entire country of Mexico. You can find them in temperate forests, subtropical deserts, and grasslands—and they might even show up in rural backyards.

Mexican cottontails benefit the environment by being a food source for many predators. While this is a sad fact, most wild cottontails don’t live more than 2 years total.

Humans have tried to domesticate many varieties of cottontail, including their eastern cousins. However, these rabbits are so prey-minded that they can’t trust human beings at all.

Mexican cottontails in captivity will have high levels of stress and will constantly try to escape. This can cause injury to the animal, so it’s best to leave rehabilitation to the professional.

How Much Do Mexican Cottontails Cost?

Mexican cottontails are not available for sale. They are wild animals that do not fare well in domesticated situations. They are highly prey stricken, so they will always look at you as a predator.

If you stumble across baby rabbits, do not intervene—as the mother is likely nearby. If you have verified that it is an abandoned litter or know the mother is dead, contact a wildlife rescue for further guidance.divider-multipet

Typical Behavior & Temperament

Mexican cottontails have a natural burrowing behavior. They tend to dig underground hideouts that measure roughly 9 inches long. These burrows help to protect them from predators. They will also burrow and cover when they have litters.

You might see Mexican cottontails exploring and foraging for food. They usually come out in daylight hours to avoid many nocturnal predators lurking about.

Appearance & Varieties

Mexican cottontails are the largest of all their cottontail cousins. They have a white underbelly with gray to red overcoats. Their fur is somewhat disheveled and coarse—not silky or smooth like those in the northern regions.

Mexican cottontails have muscular, lean builds with powerful hindquarters. Their ears are slightly small and stand erect. They have large, dark eyes with narrow skulls. Their tails are bushy and coarse, looking like a real cotton ball—hence the name.

As adults, they reach approximately 5.5 pounds.divider-carrots

How to Take Care of a Mexican Cottontail

Habitat & Environment

Habitat

Mexican cottontails can thrive in many climates, including moderately cultivated areas. You might see them in your own backyard snacking on foliage. They prefer areas where food is plentiful, such as forests and grasslands.

Natural Predators

Sadly, most Mexican cottontails only have a lifespan of 15 months in the wild. They are a primary food source for many native predators in the areas they dwell. It’s a natural circle of life, and it must be upheld.

Natural predators include:

Domestication

There have been several attempts to tame these prey animals throughout history. However, because of their high-stress levels in captivity, it simply doesn’t work. If you ever encounter a Mexican cottontail, leave them in the wild or contact a professional for care options.

Sylvilagus_cunicularius2-Commons wikimedia
Credit: NS777, Commons Wikimedia

Do Mexican Cottontails Get Along with Other Pets?

Mexican cottontails are exceedingly frightened by other creatures, which is especially true if they are bigger. Mexican cottontails have an extremely high prey instinct, leading to a heart attack if they are terrified enough.

That means that you could never have a Mexican cottontail around a family dog or cat. You could never keep them close to small children or other frantic creatures. Cottontails have a very exaggerated startle response to outside stimuli.

Domesticated dogs or cats can even threaten Mexican cottontails, as they trigger prey drive in other animals. If you notice a few cottontails, make sure to keep your pets away from them until they leave the yard.

What to Feed Your Mexican Cottontail

Mexican cottontails roam the Mexican plains to forage for food. These rabbits are herbivores, meaning they only snack on plant matter.

In the summer, they focus on grasses and shrubs. Some favorites include:
  • Bottlebrush squirreltail
  • Cheatgrass brome
  • Bluegrass
  • Wheat grass
  • Indian ricegrass
  • Saltbush
  • Sagebrush

When food is sparse in the winter months, they may resort to eating bark or branches for sustenance.Divider-rabbit2

Keeping Your Mexican Cottontail Healthy

Mexican cottontail rabbits are generally healthy. However, they can get some illnesses over their lifetime, including the incredibly deadly hemorrhagic virus. Scientists are working diligently for a vaccine to slow or stop the spread of this genuine threat.

Breeding

Mexican cottontails usually breed in the spring and summer months—March to October. Mothers will typically burrow, creating a safe nest for their young before they give birth. Females reach sexual maturity by five months.

The gestation period for Mexican cottontails is roughly 30 days. Mothers can have up to four litters per year, producing up to eight bunnies at a time. Babies are born hairless and blind, totally depending on their mother.

Babies begin to leave the nest before three weeks of age, and they are entirely independent by five weeks. Since they no longer need their mothers at this stage, they will hop out into the unknown to fend for themselves.divider-rabbitpaw1

Are Mexican Cottontails Suitable For You?

Even though Mexican cottontails might be an attractive exotic pet to some people, domestication is not an option for these bunnies. If you come across one, it’s best to leave it alone and let it do its own thing. They will never be a cuddly pet that you can find at any pet shop.

Intervening might cause the rabbit much more stress than it’s able to handle. If you found a Mexican cottontail in trouble, contact your local wildlife rescue for help. They will know precisely how to assist the animal before getting it safely back to its natural environment.


Featured image credit: Walter Siegmund, Commons Wikimedia