Appalachian cottontails are small rabbits that are well adapted to colder climates. They have a light-yellow brown fur, mixed with black on the dorsal side and there is a mix of brown/red patch on the neck. The ventral side is mostly white. Their tails are short and fluffy, being darker on the top and white below. Females in this species are typically larger than males.
Appalachian cottontails are found in the eastern United States ranging from Pennsylvania to South Carolina and being most prominent in the Appalachian Mountains. They inhabit mostly mountainous regions, coniferous and mixed oak forests. They also live in areas with dense vegetation such as blueberry, mountain laurel, blackberry vines and cane.
Appalachian cottontails are solitary creatures. They are active around dusk or at dawn. During the day they typically avoid predators by sheltering under logs or in burrows. These rabbits don't hibernate being active year-round. It is believed that there is a social hierarchy within the species especially when it comes to mating, in which the males assert their dominance by fighting to gain mating priority. Appalachian cottontails have acute senses of smell, hearing, and sight. This allows them to notice predators and react quickly to threats. Mothers may perform a grunting sound in order to alert her babies to the presence of predators. Their senses are also used to find potential mates.
Appalachian cottontails are herbivores. Their diet consists of leaves, blackberry, greenbriar, mountain laurel; bark and twigs of trees such as red maple, aspen, and black cherry. Appalachian cottontails may also eat their own feces, as it is useful for rabbits to take up certain vitamins and nutrients that weren’t digested well in the first pass of digestion.
Little is known about the mating system in Appalachian cottontails. The breeding season for these animals occurs between February and October. Adult females can breed up to 3-4 times per season and have roughly 3-4 babies per litter. Before giving birth, the female will begin to dig a nesting depression. She then pulls out her fur from her underbelly and gathers berries and leaves in order to provide a lining for the nest. The gestation period lasts around 28 days. After birth, little babies will live in the nest with vegetation until they are independent for about 3-4 weeks. The mother will care for her young and visit the nest twice a day to nurse her offspring. Appalachian cottontails reach reproductive maturity after 1-2 months of age.
Main threats to Appalachian cottontails are the destruction and maturation of habitat, as well as habitat fragmentation due to urban development. Once fragmentation has occurred the lack of cover exposes the cottontail to predators, increasing the strain on the species. Hunting is a common reason for deaths of many Appalachian cottontails but is mostly due to lack of knowledge by the hunter. The lack of education on existence, biology, and habitat requirements of these animals also contribute to them being threatened.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Appalachian cottontail total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.
Appalachian cottontails serve as prey for owls, hawks, dogs, foxes, and humans. They consume fruits in their diet and thus act as seed dispersers.