|Eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) eats grass, ferns, and leaves|
| Lepus sylvaticus|
(=Lepus sylvaticus floridanus J. Allen, 1890)
16 sp., see text
In appearance, most cottontail rabbits closely resemble the wild European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). Most Sylvilagus species have stub tails with white undersides that show when they retreat; giving them their name, "cottontails". This feature is not present in some cottontails (for example, the underside of the brush rabbit's tail is gray), nor is it unique to the genus (for example, the European rabbit also has a white scut).
The genus is widely distributed across North America, Central America, and northern and central South America, though most species are confined to particular regions. Most (though not all) species live in nests called forms, and all have altricial young.
Unlike the squirrel and chipmunk that eat sitting up on their hind legs, and can hold food with their front paws while spinning it in circles to devour it quickly, the desert cottontail, like all cottontails, eat on all fours, and can only use its nose to move and adjust the position of the food that it places directly in front of its front paws on the ground. The cottontail rabbit will turn the food with its nose to find the cleanest part of the vegetation (free of sand and inedible parts) to begin its meal. The only time a cottontail uses its front paws to enable eating, is when vegetation is above its head on a living plant. The cottontail will lift its paw to bend the branch to bring the food within reach.
Cottontails are rarely found out of their burrows looking for food on windy days. This phenomena is due to the fact that the wind interferes with their hearing capabilities. Hearing an oncoming predator approaching is their primary defense mechanism.
- Subgenus Microlagus
- Sylvilagus bachmani – Brush rabbit
- Subgenus Sylvilagus
- Sylvilagus audubonii – Desert cottontail
- Sylvilagus cognatus – Manzano mountain cottontail
- Sylvilagus cunicularius – Mexican cottontail
- Sylvilagus floridanus – Eastern cottontail
- Sylvilagus graysoni – Tres Marias rabbit
- Sylvilagus nuttallii – Mountain cottontail
- Sylvilagus obscurus – Appalachian cottontail or rarely Allegheny cottontail
- Sylvilagus robustus – Robust cottontail
- Sylvilagus transitionalis – New England cottontail
- Subgenus Tapeti
- Subgenus unknown
- Sylvilagus mansuetus – San Jose brush rabbit
Desert Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii) in submissive posture anticipating food
From behind with white tail easily visible
California high Desert Cottontail resting on a full stomach
Mother and Juvenile Cottontail enjoying a carrot dinner