||The Mammals of Texas -
Lagomorpha : Family Leporidae :
Lepus californicus Gray
Description. A large, long-eared rabbit
of the open grasslands and desert scrub of the West;
sides but little, if at all, differentiated from the
back; ear nearly as long as the hind foot, with black
patch at tip; top of tail with black stripe that extends
onto rump; underparts clear, ochraceous buff, paler
medially; upperparts dark buff, heavily sprinkled with
blackish. External measurements average: total length,
604 mm; tail, 95 mm; hind foot, 131 mm; ear, 125 mm.
Weight, 1.5-4 kg.
Distribution in Texas. Statewide, except
for Big Thicket region of extreme southeastern Texas.
Habits. The black-tailed
jackrabbit, so familiar to those who know the West, is a
common denizen of the hot, dry, desert scrubland. It
occupies a latitudinal range from sea level to well over
2,500 m on the southwest slopes of some of the desert
mountains but seldom inhabits coniferous forests (pinyon
pine and juniper areas excepted), although occasionally
it may stray into them.
In summer, this rabbit spends the
hotter part of the day dozing in a bed scratched-out at
the base of some shrub, or in a clump of tall grass where
the shade will protect it from the hot sun. In winter,
such beds are located in vegetation that offers
protection from the chilling winds. It becomes active at
twilight, and forages well into the night. When molested
it depends on speed and its keen senses of hearing and
sight to elude its enemies.
The food includes forage crops, cactus,
sagebrush, mesquite, and numerous grasses and herbs.
Because of a preference for sparsely vegetated areas,
this species often concentrates in pastures overgrazed by
livestock, further depleting the vegetation. It has been
estimated that 128 black-tailed jackrabbits can consume
as much range vegetation as one cow or seven sheep. Thus,
when these rabbits are concentrated, often as many as 154
per square kilometer, they conflict with grazing
interests. Such concentrations frequently result from
overgrazing, hence the wise rancher will recognize an
overabundance of jackrabbits as an indication that he has
been overstocking his range.
The breeding season extends throughout
the year in Texas. Two to six litters of one to six young
may be produced each year. The gestation period is 41-47
days. The young are precocious and active shortly after
birth. They grow rather rapidly and reach adult size in
about 7 or 8 months. Sexual maturity is attained at about
the same time, but young females do not breed until early
in the year following their birth. Usually, the expectant
mother provides no nest for her young.
The natural enemies of rabbits include
the larger birds of prey and such carnivores as coyotes,
foxes, bobcats, badgers, and weasels. Campaigns to
eliminate these predators from rangelands usually are
expensive and they may lead to an increase in jackrabbits
and many range rodents, which can become serious pests.
Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife.