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Rabbits and Hares

Rabbits and hares are extremely common desert dwelling mammals. They are also an important food source for predators such as: coyotes, snakes and owls. Because of these animals, most rabbits do not live to adulthood. They make up for this fact by being able to breed quickly. Female rabbits can reproduce at 3 months of age and can have multiple litters each year.

Distinguishing Features

The most common rabbit you will see is the desert cottontail. Desert cottontails resemble most other cottontail rabbits found across the country, except their ears are somewhat larger (the network of blood vessels in their ears serve to dissipate heat in the hot summer months). Their fur is gray-brown, except for the white tail that gives them their name. Cottontails are small weighing in at a maximum of around 2 pounds.

Are the rabbits in the photographs on this page cottontails or jackrabbits?

Jackrabbits are also found in the Sonoran desert. Jacks are members of the hare family (hares are related to rabbits; however, unlike rabbits, they do not burrow and their young are born completely covered with fur with their eyes open). Jackrabbits are much bigger than cottontails, weighing up to 10 lbs and have very large ears and eyes which enable them to detect predators. Their long legs enable them to bound 15 ft at a time and reach speeds of up to 35 mph. Two types of jackrabbits are found in the Sonoran desert; the antelope jackrabbit and the black-tailed jackrabbit. The antelope jack is the larger of the two and has a patch of white fur on its side that it can flash as it bounds away from predators (much as a pronghorn antelope does). The black-tailed jackrabbit is smaller (around 10 lbs) and has black fur on top of its ears and tail.

Natural History and Diet
The desert cottontail is found throughout the Sonoran Desert, particularly in areas that contain thick brush with plenty of hiding places. Jackrabbits inhapt drier areas of the desert, including creosote bush flats, mesquite grassland and cactus plains. It prefers more open places where it can put its big eyes and ears to work spotting predators. Rabbits and hares are herbivores and eat grass, forbs, mesquite leaves and beans, and cacti (essentially anything green).

Cottontails are primarily crepuscular (big word eh? it means active during the morning and twilight hours) and nocturnal. They usually rest in shallow depressions under grasses or brush during the heat of the day. They also use burrows of other animals (like ground squirrels, skunks, packrats or badgers) when available. Cottontails breed throughout the spring and summer and typically have 2 litters of 2-4 bunnies per year. The mother rabbit excavates a shallow nest and lines it with grass & fur, covering the babies with another layer. In two weeks the bunnies are ready to venture out on their own.

Jackrabbits are primarily nocturnal, and spend the daylight hours resting in the shade of cacti or other plants. Jackrabbits breed throughout the year and have 1-2 bunnies per litter. These animals are very social and sometimes congregate at night in groups of 25 or more.

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