THE COTTONTAIL RABBIT is the most widely distributed of all the various kinds of rabbits in the United States. Jack rabbits are most numerous and characteristic of the open plains of the West, whereas the cottontail occurs in practically all sections of the United States. It is of medium size, about 13 inches in length, with a short, conspicuous white tail about 2 inches long, from which it gets its name. The ears, which are so large and conspicuous in the jack rabbit, are only of medium size in the cottontail, averaging about 3 inches in length. A full grown cottontail in good condition weighs about 2 pounds.
There are three general types of cottontails found in the United States. The range of the eastern cottontail extends from Florida along the Atlantic coast as far north as southern New England. This type is also found generally over the Mississippi Valley. The type found in the Rocky Mountain region is a slightly smaller form. The western cottontail is found along the Pacific coast.
Jack rabbits at birth are covered with hair and, being precocious, are able to run about at an extremely early age. Contrasted with this, cottontails are born naked, with eyes closed, in a well-made nest where they are suckled and tended for several days before they become fully furred and able to leave the nest and run about.
Cottontails are important elements in the animal life of a community because they provide food for a large variety of hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and other meat-eating animals, to say nothing of the sport and food that they provide for man. In this connection it should be pointed out that the cottontail rabbit, although of relatively low estate, provides sport and food for many farmer boys and other persons who are not able to go hunting for big game. In a similar way, it is of relatively great importance in the national parks because of its food value for native meat-eating animals. On account of a relatively high rate of reproduction, the cottontail usually succeeds in maintaining itself in spite of pressure from human hunters outside the parks and furred and feathered hunters in the parks.
Many persons, including famous naturalists and big game hunters, received their first training in hunting the cottontail, and if we are to pass on to future generations the wildlife heritage that we have enjoyed, the cottontail is an essential element that needs to be preserved and protected.
Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010