New England Cottontail

New England Cottontail

Gray rabbit, Brush rabbit, Wood hare, Wood rabbit, Cooney

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Sylvilagus transitionalis
Population size
17,000
Life Span
3 yrs
WEIGHT
995-1347 g
LENGTH
398-439 mm

The New England cottontail is a medium-sized rabbit that looks nearly identical to the Eastern cottontail. The New England cottontail has a dark brown coat with a "penciled effect" and a tail with white undersides. It also has black hair between and on the anterior surface of the ear. Females of this species are larger than males.

Distribution

New England cottontails occur in areas of the New England region of the United States, specifically from southern Maine to southern New York. These rabbits are habitat specialists. They thrive in early successional forests - young forests (usually less than twenty-five years old) with a dense understory of thick, tangled vegetation (scrubland/brushland), preferably of blueberry or mountain laurel. They prefer woodlands with higher elevations or northern latitudes.

New England Cottontail habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

New England cottontails don't hibernate and are active during dawn, dusk, and at night. Outside of the breeding season, they lead a solitary life and rarely venture more than 5 m from cover. To avoid predators, New England cottontails run for cover; "freeze" and rely on their cryptic coloration; or, when running, follow a zig-zag pattern to confuse the predator. Because their habitat is small and has a less vegetative cover, New England cottontails forage more often in the open and thus are more vulnerable to predation.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

New England cottontails are herbivores and their diet varies based on the season and local forage opportunities. In the spring and summer, they primarily eat herbaceous plants (including leaves, stems, wood, bark, flowers, fruits, and seeds) from grasses and forbs. Beginning in the fall and continuing into the winter, New England cottontails consume mostly woody plants.

Mating Habits

REPRODUCTION SEASON
January-September
PREGNANCY DURATION
28 days
BABY CARRYING
3-8 kittens
INDEPENDENT AGE
4 weeks
FEMALE NAME
doe
MALE NAME
buck
BABY NAME
kitten, bunny

New England cottontails breed two to three times a year. The breeding season varies based on local elevation and latitude and can span from January to September. The breeding season in Connecticut lasts from mid-March to mid-September, while the breeding season in Maine lasts from April to August. Pregnant females usually appear between April and August. The gestation period is around 28 days and litter size ranges from 3 to 8 kittens. Generally, cottontails who live in more northern habitats have shorter gestation periods and larger litters, so they produce more litters during warmer weather. During the mating season, males form breeding groups around dominant females in areas with plentiful food and good cover. New England cottontails perform a courtship display that includes running and jumping and jumping of one rabbit over the other. They create nests in depressions, some 12 cm deep by 10 cm wide, lining them with grasses and fur. Kittens are born naked with their eyes closed. Parental investment is minimal: there is no investment by males, and females nurse their young in the nest for about 16 days, often having mated again by the time the juveniles have left the nest. The young become reproductively mature early, at no more than one year old, and many juveniles will breed in their first season.

Population

Population threats

The New England cottontail suffers greatly from its decreasing population and habitat destruction from the reduced thicket habitat. Before European settlement, New England cottontails were likely found along river valleys, where disturbances in the forest - such as beaver activity, ice storms, hurricanes, and wildfires - promoted thicket growth. The clearing of much of the New England forest, as well as development, has eliminated a large portion of New England cottontail habitat. Other factors which contributed to the decline of New England cottontails include the introduction of Eastern cottontails, the introduction of invasive plant species, and an increase in the population and density of White-tailed deer in the same range as the New England cottontail because deer eat many of the same plants and damage the density of understory plants providing vital thicket habitat.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total population size of the New England cottontail is 17,000 individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.

References

1. New England Cottontail on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_England_cottontail
2. New England Cottontail on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/21212/45181534

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