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Eastern Cottontail
Sylvilagus floridanus


Eastern cottontail
Eastern cottontail, 33k JPEG

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The most common rabbit species in Texas is the Eastern cottontail, identifiable by its two- to three-pound body, brown or gray coat, white belly, and distinctive white tail. They are widespread in brushy areas from southern Canada to South America, predominantly east of the Rocky Mountains. A related species, the desert cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii), occurs in Texas and the desert Southwest.

Cottontails feed at night, subsisting on a variety of green plants, barks, buds, and grasses. Unlike the jackrabbit, which is actually a member of the hare family, cottontails are true rabbits. This distinction is important, as hares are born virtually self-sufficient, whereas rabbits are born hairless, blind, and helpless. In addition, hares tend to be larger and more muscular than rabbits.

The cottontail is an essential element of the food chain, serving as prime prey for many predators. As a result, cottontail life expectancy is extremely short -- one year or less -- requiring the prolific reproduction so often attributed to rabbit species. In addition to their reproductive strategy, cottontails thrive because they are swift-moving and can jump distances of up to eight feet at a time when pursued, making split-second changes in direction to frustrate and elude predators.

Cottontails are somewhat difficult to view, due to their swift and elusive nature. Viewing opportunities are good in brushy areas near ponds, marshes, and streams, particularly along the Texas coast.

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