||The Mammals of Texas -
Lagomorpha : Family Leporidae :
Sylvilagus floridanus (Allen)
Description. A moderately large,
rusty-brown cottontail with relatively short ears and
large hind feet (ears 50-60% as long as hind feet).
Upperparts deep ochraceous buff, heavily lined with
blackish, giving a rusty or reddish-brown effect; sides
paler and grayer; top of tail like back; rump dingy
grayish, not conspicuously different from back; front and
sides of legs deep, rich, rusty reddish; underside of
neck buff or ochraceous buff, rest of underparts,
including tail, white. Differs from S. audubonii, with which its range overlaps, in having
small, smoothly rounded bullae (rather than large and
rough) and relatively and actually shorter ears. External
measurements average: total length, 418 mm; tail, 56 mm;
hind foot, 92 mm; ear, 52 mm. Weight, 1-2 kg.
Distribution in Texas. Occurs throughout
eastern three-fourths of the state and in some areas of
Habits. Like other cottontails,
this one is a denizen of brushland and marginal areas and
seldom ventures far from brushy cover. In central Texas,
it commonly frequents brush-dotted pastures, the brushy
edges of cultivated fields, and well-drained streamsides.
Occasionally, it inhabits poorly drained bottom lands
with the swamp rabbit. In many places it is common along
country roads, especially where the sides are grown up to
dense vegetation and adjoining areas are heavily grazed
These cottontails are active largely in
the twilight hours and at night, when they venture to
open pastures, meadows, or lawns to forage. They
frequently live in the edges of towns and feed in gardens
and flower beds. In the daytime they rest in beds in
nearby thickets or in underground burrows and small
culverts. On the coastal prairies of Texas, a population
density of one cottontail to 1.8 ha is not unusual.
The food is variable with the season.
They feed on a variety of grasses and forbs but when such
vegetation is scarce, they eat the twigs and bark of
shrubs and small trees. These rabbits are not sociable
and are seldom seen feeding together.
Eastern cottontails are prolific
breeders. In southern Texas the breeding season is
year-long, although the frequency of breeding does
fluctuate throughout the year. Breeding activity is
stimulated by environmental factors, such as temperature
and rainfall, which affect the growth of vegetation. As
many as four or five litters of one to eight young
(average, four) may be reared yearly. The gestation
period is 28-29 days. The young are blind and helpless at
birth, but grow rapidly; when 4-5 months old they are
distinguished from adults only with difficulty. Young
females born early in the year may mature sexually and
produce young in their first summer but ordinarily, they
do not breed until their second summer.
These cottontails are known to be
preyed upon by hawks, barn owls, opossums, coyotes,
foxes, and weasels. Doubtless, many others can be added
to the list.
Remarks. Previously, cottontails
from mountainous areas of the Trans-Pecos, including the
Guadalupe and Chisos Mountains, were regarded as a
distinct species (Sylvilagus robustus). Based on
only nominal cranial differences with S. floridanus,
these rabbits are now considered merely a subspecies of
the eastern cottontail, S. f. robustus.
Photo credit: John L. Tveten.