Sylviagus floridanus

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Eastern Cottontail grazing on clover under a shrub

Eastern Cottontail - Sylviagus floridanus

Habitat: The Eastern Cottontail tends to live in places where it can easily go from grasslands to cover. They are commonly found in swamps, fields, woodlands and thickets.

Range: Eastern Cottontails span the range of North and Central America. They can be found as far north as southern Canada and as far south as Mexico. They are also found all across the east coast and as far west as Texas and Arizona.

Description: The Eastern Cottontail has spotted gray fur on its back, sides, and head with reddish patches of fur around the back of its neck and nose. It also has white circles around its eyes and its trademark white cotton tail. During winter its fur may change from spotted gray to a more solid gray to help with camouflage. Eastern Cottontails typically weigh 1.5 to 3 pounds fully grown and are about 14 to 19 inches long. Their trademark cotton tail is typically about an inch in length and white on the bottom. They have large eyes and ears to locate predators and have been known to stand on their hind legs to survey the surrounding areas for threats.

Ecological Notes: The Eastern Cottontail can be stressed very easily in its non natural environment and should be returned from captivity as soon as possible if found. It is a herbivore and its main diet consists of buds, fruit, grasses, flowers and bark. They like grasslands and forests where they can easily take cover from predators and are usually solitary and highly territorial. Eastern Cottontails are crepuscular, meaning they are most active in the hour or so after dawn and one to two hours before sunset. Males and females both become sexually mature and can start having kits around the age of 2 to 3 months. The gestation period is 25 to 31 days and each birth can produce 1 to 6 kits with the mean size being about 2. Kits emerge from the nest at around two weeks and are independent at 7 to 8 weeks.

Personal Information: On the 2018 Marine Biology trip to North Carolina an Eastern Cottontail was spotted near the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island. The cottontail was grazing clover and grass under a shrub near the dock at the aquarium. It was not frightened at the many people who were walking around so it must be used to human activity. I was able to get about five feet away from it without it running away.

Journal Articles For information of Eastern Cottontails please see the following:

This Journal Article talks about the introduction of the Eastern Cottontail to Italy and how diseases native to European lagomorphs such as European brown hare syndrome and rabbit hemorrhagic disease could spread to from native species to the Eastern Cottontail. The study tried to distinguish the rate of occurrence of native diseases in the invasive cottontail rabbit population and if those populations were spreading the disease or "dead ends" for the epidemic.

Lavazza, Antonio, et al. “Field and Experimental Data Indicate That the Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus Floridanus) Is Susceptible to Infection with European Brown Hare Syndrome (EBHS) Virus and Not with Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease (RHD) Virus.” Veterinary Research, vol. 46, no. 1, 2015, p. 13., doi:10.1186/s13567-015-0149-4

This article from the Journal of Vector Borne Zoonotic Diseases talks about an experiment that was done to see if Eastern Cottontail Rabbits could potentially be a contributor to the spread of West Nile Virus. The disease profiles were taken from 15 separate Eastern Cottontails. Eight were infected with a dose of West Nile by needle, and the other seven were bitten by infected mosquitoes. None of the rabbits showed any symptoms of West Nile, and by the seventh day there was no virus present in any of the fifteen rabbits. The results of this study showed that the abundance of virus in the bloodstream of the Eastern Cottontails decreased as time progressed and that the Eastern Cottontail is likely a poor vector species for West Nile Virus.

Tiawsirisup, Sonthaya, et al. “Eastern Cottontail Rabbits (Sylvilagus Floridanus) Develop West Nile Virus Viremias Sufficient for Infecting Select Mosquito Species.” Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, vol. 5, no. 4, 2005, pp. 342–350., doi:10.1089/vbz.2005.5.342.


Contributed by Skylar Wilson - 2018

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