Rabbits can be found on every continent in the world except Antarctica. There are around 29 species of wild rabbits and close to 305 domesticated breeds. Cottontail rabbits are the most commonly found species in North America. They’re also abundant in South and Central America. There are over 15 cottontail rabbit species.
The Eastern cottontail rabbit tends to be the most commonly found species in the US. As crepuscular creatures, Eastern cottontail rabbits are most active during the hours close to dawn and dusk. While some rabbits dig burrows to live in, most cottontail rabbits prefer to rest in shallow depressions above ground that are often covered by thick brush or grass.
Where Do Cottontail Rabbits Live?
Cottontail rabbits can be found throughout North and South America, including Canada, Brazil, Panama, Mexico, and Suriname. In North America, Eastern cottontails are the most commonly seen rabbit species in the Eastern US, although they can now be found in New Mexico and Arizona.
Male Eastern cottontail rabbits often have ranges that max out at 8 acres, but many are happy with 1 acre if there’s enough food to be found. Females generally have smaller territories than males, with most having ranges close to 3 acres. Unlike other species that dig burrows, cottontails make their homes above ground in depressions covered by shrubs, dead leaves, and twigs. They’re also known to sleep under decks in suburban neighborhoods.
How Long Do Wild Eastern Cottontail Rabbits Live?
Eastern cottontail rabbits in North America typically live for 1 to 9 years, although the average is closer to 2 years. Domesticated pets regularly make it to 10 years. Wild rabbits are prey animals in most environments, so an increase in predators can result in a drop in rabbit numbers.
Dogs, cats, prey birds, and bobcats all prey on rabbits. They’re also hunted in many states in the US. Rabbits in some areas are also suffering the consequences of habitat loss.
What Do Wild Eastern Cottontail Rabbits Eat?
Eastern cottontail rabbits are herbivores, meaning their bodies are designed to obtain nutrients from plant matter. They generally eat materials like clover, grass, and dandelions. During colder months, they consume twigs, seeds, and bark when food becomes harder to find.
They’re notorious for nibbling on garden vegetables during the spring and summer months. They typically prefer to eat during dusk and dawn but often eat at night during winter.
Are Wild Cottontail Rabbits Different from Domestic Rabbits?
Yes. Domestic rabbits have a common ancestor, the European rabbit. They come in various colors and can weigh anywhere from 2 to close to 20 pounds. There are more than 300 domesticated bunny breeds, and there are pets of varying sizes, colors, fur lengths, and temperaments to choose from.
Most cottontail rabbits have brown or gray-brown fur and white undersides. They also tend to be quite nervous around humans. Most weigh between 2 to 6 pounds, although there are exceptions. Domestic rabbits and cottontail rabbits are different species. The two are so different that they can’t even produce offspring if they mate. They also have different ways of nesting. Domestic bunnies burrow, while cottontail rabbits prefer snuggling up in shallow above-ground depressions.
Can Domestic Bunnies Mate With Any Wild Rabbits?
Yes! Most domestic rabbits are members of the same species as European rabbits. It’s possible for domestic rabbits and wild European rabbits found in the UK and on the European continent to breed and produce offspring.
Can You Tame a Wild Eastern Cottontail Rabbit?
Wild rabbits are scared of humans, and most healthy adults view people as threats and run when approached. Some may bite or kick when handled. If you accidentally disturb a nest while mowing your lawn, try to set things back as close to the way they were as possible.
Check to see if the mom returns, which is the most likely outcome. Contact a local wildlife rehabilitator for help if you discover orphaned rabbit babies. Resist the urge to feed the baby or give it water, as this can create problems, particularly if the animal needs medical tests or treatment.
How Often Do Wild Eastern Cottontail Rabbits Reproduce?
Eastern cottontail rabbits have relatively short gestation periods of around 28 days. Female rabbits can mate almost immediately after giving birth, and most have three or four litters per year. Female Eastern cottontail rabbits often give birth to litters varying in size from one to nine kits, but four or five is closer to average.
Mating season lasts from February through September. Kits are usually weaned after about 3 weeks and become independent and strike out on their own when they hit 7 weeks. Most reach sexual maturity when they’re close to 3 months old.
Eastern cottontails are the most common wild rabbits in the US. Unlike domestic bunnies and other rabbit species, cottontails prefer sleeping above ground surrounded by thickets and leaves for protection. Most Eastern cottontail rabbits live short lives, usually around 2 years or so, but those raised in captivity can live much longer. However, cottontails are unsuitable pets since they’re afraid of humans and are not as gentle as domestic species.
Featured Image Credit: Jerry Morse, Shutterstock