Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

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Facts

Scientific Name: Sylvilagus floridanus
Habitat: Open lands bordered by thickets and brushy areas with ground burrows and holes.
Adult Weight: 2 - 4 lbs.
Adult Body Length: 14 1/4 - 16 3/8 inches
Breeding Period: February - September; peak May - June.
Litters Per Year: 2- 5, average 3
Litter Size: 2 - 10; average 5
Life Expectancy: average less than 1 year
Foods: Herbivore - Wide variety of plants such as clover, dandelion, plantain, and ragweed. Winter foods include ear corn, dry hay, and bark of tree saplings, raspberry, and multiflora rose.

Notes

The Eastern Cottontail rabbit is considered Ohio's most popular game species. They are hunted for their meat and fur. Rabbits are also an important prey species to others, including hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, weasels and dogs.

When feeding, rabbits can cause damage to its habitat by its chewing and trampling of vegetation. In urban areas, the rabbit is known to damage landscapes and gardens. For this reason, they are often considered a pest animal.

History

Prehistory

The rabbit family, Leporidae, is one of the oldest mammal families known. Fossilized remains dating back 50 million years have been found in Asia and North America.

The rabbit was an important food source for prehistoric people in Ohio. Skeletal remains have been found in numerous dig sites. The rabbit has been represented in prehistoric art such as pipes.

Pre-Settlement

In certain Native American cultures in Ohio, the rabbit was considered an important ceremonial animal.

Settlement

Cottontail rabbits were not abundant in Ohio when settlers first arrived. It was not until forests were cleared, letting brushy undergrowth to grow, and the disappearance of predators, like wolves and cougars, that the rabbit population began to increase.

Nineteenth Century

Rabbit populations remained high throughout the 1800s.

Twentieth Century

Rabbit populations changed year to year. They were especially abundant during the early 1920s. Rabbit hunting season lasted for three months and it was even permissible to shoot rabbits from a car at night. The limit was ten rabbits per day per hunter. Despite the heavy hunting, rabbit populations remained stable as long as there was enough food and shelter. Improvements in farm machinery and the use of herbicides caused for a sharp decline in rabbit habitat. Rabbits were forced to move to insufficient cover areas. Their populations dropped until they reached the carrying capacity of the land. Another reason for their decline was the reforestation of southeastern Ohio.

In 1975, there was an estimated 6-8 million rabbits in Ohio. Approximately 2 million rabbits were killed during the hunting season. Its current population in Ohio remains strong.

The Eastern Cottontail is found in all 88 counties in Ohio.

Resources

  • Ohio Department of Natural Resources. 1998-99 Population Status and Hunting Forecast. Columbus, OH: pp. 4-5, Fall 1998.
  • Gottschang, Jack L. A Guide to the Mammals of Ohio. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Press,1981.

See Also