The Black-tailed jackrabbit is a common hare of the western United States and Mexico. Like other jackrabbits, it has distinctive long ears, and the long powerful rear legs characteristic of hares. The dorsal fur is agouti (dark buff peppered with black), and the undersides and the insides of its legs are creamy white. The ears are black-tipped on the outer surfaces, and unpigmented inside. The ventral surface of the tail is grey to white, and the black dorsal surface of the tail continues up the spine for a few inches to form a short, black stripe. The females are larger than males, with no other significant differences.
Black-tailed jackrabbits occur from central Washington east to Missouri and south to Baja California Sur and Zacatecas. They can live in a wide range of habitats including woodlands, meadows, prairies, desert shrublands, and farmlands. They require shrubs or small conifers for hiding, nesting, and thermal cover, and grassy areas for night feeding. Black-tailed jackrabbits prefer moderately open areas without dense understory growth and are seldom found in closed-canopy habitats.
Black-tailed jackrabbits do not migrate or hibernate during winter and live in the same habitat year-round. They are social animals and usually feed or rest in small groups. Black-tailed jackrabbits do not live in burrows, although they may occasionally use abandoned burrows for escape and thermal cover. During the day they usually rest in a shallow depression in shrub cover and emerge at dusk to forage. They stay active throughout the night and during this time jackrabbits are very watchful of potential threats; with any sign of danger, they will run at speeds of 35 to 40 miles per hour (56 to 64 km per hour) in a zig-zag pattern. During the escape, Black-tailed jackrabbits flash the white underside of their tail which will warn other jackrabbits of danger and may also confuse the potential predator.
Black-tailed jackrabbits are herbivores (folivores, graminivores). Their diet consists of various shrubs, small trees, grasses, and forbs. Shrubs generally comprise the bulk of fall and winter diets, while grasses and forbs are used in spring and early summer.
Black-tailed jackrabbits are polygynandrous (promiscuous) meaning that both the males and the females mate with multiple partners. Their breeding season depends on the location; it typically peaks in spring but may continue all year round in warm climates. Females do not prepare an elaborate nest. They give birth in shallow excavations called forms that are no more than a few centimeters deep. Females may line forms with hair prior to giving birth, but some drop litters in existing depressions on the ground with no further preparation. The gestation period ranges from 41 to 47 days and females produce 3 or 4 litters per year. The average litter size is around 4, but may be as low as 2 and as high as 7 in warm regions. Young are born fully furred with eyes open and are mobile within minutes of birth. Females do not protect or even stay with the young except during nursing. Ages of weaning and dispersal are unclear since the young are well camouflaged and rarely observed in the field. They generally stay together for at least a week after leaving the form. Males reach reproductive maturity around 7 months of age while females usually breed in the spring of their second year.
Black-tailed jackrabbits are not currently threatened although extensive habitat destruction may reduce suitable habitat. Many hunters also poison or shoot jackrabbits for pest control, sport, or food.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Black-tailed jackrabbit total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.