"Cottontail" redirects here. For other uses, see Cottontail (disambiguation).
Cottontail rabbits[1]
Eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) eats grass, ferns, and leaves
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Infraclass: Eutheria
Order: Lagomorpha
Family: Leporidae
Genus: Sylvilagus
Gray, 1867
Type species
Lepus sylvaticus
Bachman, 1837
(=Lepus sylvaticus floridanus J. Allen, 1890)

16 sp., see text

Cottontail rabbits are among the 17 lagomorph species in the genus Sylvilagus, found in the Americas.[1]

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.

Cottontail rabbits show a greater resistance to myxomatosis than European rabbits.[2]

Eating Mechanics

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.


Genus Sylvilagus