Lepus californicus
Gray, 1837

lE-pus cal-i-forn-i-cus

An adult Black-tailed Jackrabbit.

The Black-tailed Jackrabbit, although referred to as a rabbit, actually is a hare based on its long ears and feet and precocial young. In addition to long ears and feet, this jackrabbit has especially long legs. Its dorsal pelage is characterized by a black mid-dorsal stripe and otherwise is buffy or grayish. The venter is pale with gray bases or underfur. The dental formula is incisors 2/1, canine 0/0, premolars 3/2, molars 3/3.
This hare can be distinguished from other Kansas rabbits and hares by its grayish-brown upper and lateral pelage that is heavily lined with black (especially in winter pelage), whitish buff to pure white venter, very long hind legs and ears, and characteristic black hair on the top of its tail that extends as a stripe onto the rump.

The overall distribution of this hare includes the western United States and Mexico from Washington and South Dakota south through central Mexico. In Kansas, the black-tailed jackrabbit occurs statewide but is more common on the prairies of the West. Kansas. Rangeland near wheat fields are preferred habitat because jackrabbit commonly feed on green wheat during winter.
The genus Lepus originated in the Holarctic in the late Pliocene or early Pleistocene. Lepus californicus is the most common Lepus in fossil deposits representing the Pleistocene of North America.

(, Museum Voucher) (, Observation) (, Literature Record)
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  • Occurrence Summary:  
  • 455 Total Records 
  • 396 Museum Vouchers 
  • 59 Other Observations 
Some county occurrences indicated below may be too imprecise to map above.
County Breakdown: County Name (# occurrences):
Allen (1); Atchison (1); Barber (6); Barton (4); Bourbon (1); Cherokee (1); Cheyenne (21); Clark (1); Clay (5); Comanche (4); Cowley (1); Crawford (3); Decatur (2); Douglas (18); Ellis (61); Finney (40); Ford (2); Gove (18); Graham (2); Grant (2); Greenwood (6); Hamilton (16); Harvey (8); Haskell (14); Hodgeman (1); Jewell (2); Johnson (1); Kearney (10); Kingman (4); Kiowa (7); Labette (1); Lane (3); Logan (13); Lyon (4); Marion (5); Marshall (2); Meade (15); Miami (1); Mitchell (2); Montgomery (8); Morton (14); Ness (1); Norton (1); Osborne (4); Phillips (10); Pottawatomie (12); Pratt (4); Rawlins (8); Reno (1); Republic (6); Rooks (2); Rush (7); Russell (1); Scott (1); Sedgwick (3); Seward (5); Sheridan (3); Smith (1); Stafford (15); Stanton (6); Stevens (1); Thomas (3); Trego (19); Wallace (9); Wichita (1);

Natural History:
The black-tailed jackrabbit is a characteristic inhabitant of shortgrass rangeland and other arid or simi-arid habitats. They avoid areas of heavy brush or woods, where their principal means of defense, keen eyesight and speed, would be ineffective. They often spend the day sitting in a "form" (a depression) at the base of a shrub or clump of tall grass with their ears (which function as body temperature regulators) turned so they absorb heat in winter or dissipate heat in summer. They emerge in the early evening to feed, at which time they become highly conspicuous. If a predator or other threat appears, jackrabbits can outrun them at speeds of 35 to 40 miles per hour. Their populations seem to cycle more-or-less in conceert with the drought cycle, and they have experienced monumental population explosions in the past. For example, a jackrabbit drive in Rush County in 1930 resulted in 6199 dead jackrabbits, and another drive at the same location one month later resulted in the killing of another 11,658 jackrabbits. Nevertheless, the density of jackrabbits in March of 1935 reached 484 per square mile. At high densities, jackrabbits are destructive to habitats.
Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 535-585 mm; length of tail 71-87 mm; length of hind foot 125-135 mm; length of ear 112-125 mm; weight 2.4-3.9 kg.
Black-tailed jackrabbits eat whatever vegetation is available. Although they seem to prefer succulent green vegetation, their diet depends on their location and the nature of the vegetation at that place. They evidently get all the water they need in their diet. In this regard, during dry winters or drought periods, they consume cactus to obtain water. Like other rabbits and hares, black-tailed jackrabbits produce two kinds of feces. The characteristic "rabbit pellets" are voided during the feeding period at an average rate of 545 pellets per day. During resting periods, soft feces are produced. This type of feces is reingested (a process known as coprophagy), presumably to enhance utilizaton of nutrients or to obtain vitamins synthesized by bacteria living in the intestines. Young may ingest the soft feces of their mother and thereby obtain their own colony of cellulose-digesting, vitamin -producing bacteria. Hard rabbit pellets often contain plant seeds, and germination of the seeds is enhanced by passage through the gut of a hare. In this way, jackrabbits may be partially responsible for the spread of prickly pear in rangeland during drought periods.
Predators known to prey on black-tailed jackrabbits include coyotes, eagles, large hawks, large owls, domestic dogs, and swift foxes. The greatest source of mortality is humans, but fires, hail storms, automobiles, cold weather, and parasites take a toll, as does a condition known as "shock disease."
Throughout most of Kansas, the breeding period of the black-tailed jack rabbit is from late winter to late summer. After a gestation period of from 41 to 47 days, one to eight (usually four) short-eared young from 152 to 178 mm long are born fully furred with eyes open. They are able to move almost immediately, and because the young are so well-developed at birth, there is no need for an elaborate nest to house them. Birth generally takes place in a grass- and fur-lined concavity placed among the grass or under low shrubs, but can take place even on the bare ground. The female nurses the young for three or four weeks although the weaning process begins at about ten days, and at about one month of age the young become independent. They grow rapidly and in two months are nearly adult size. Both sexes reach sexual maturity in the breeding season following their birth.

Occurrence Activity:
Because of its large size, the tracks of this hare are more widely spaced laterally than are those of the smaller cottontails. The larger fecal pellets are also characteristic of this species.Eagles, hawks, owls, coyotes, foxes, and bobcats are the principal predators of the black-tailed jack rabbit. Diseases can reduce a high population to just a few individuals in the course of a month or two. Periodic population fluctuations in this hare are common. The reduction of the native prairie by agriculture has probably caused the greatest decrease in numbers of the black-tailed jack rabbit in Kansas. They do not adapt well to the intense tillage required to produce milo, soybeans, wheat or other grain crops.
The subspecies that occurs in Kansas and surrounding states is Lepus californicus melanotis.

1909 Nelson, E. W. The rabbits of North America. North American Fauna, 29:1-314. ():
1939 Carter, F. L. A study of jackrabbit shifts in range in western Kansas. Trans. Kansas Acad. Sci., 42:431-435. ():
1941 Riegel, D. A. Some coactions of rabbits and rodents with cactus. Trans. Kansas Acad. Sci., 44:96-103. ():
1942 Riegel, D. A. Some observations of the food coactions of rabbits in western Kansas during periods of stress. Trans. Kansas Acad. Sci., 45:369-375. ():
1947 Brown, H. L. Coaction of jackrabbit, cottontail, and vegetation in a mixed prairie. Trans. Kansas Acad. Sci., 50:28-44. ():
1951 Hall, E. R. A synopsis of the North American Lagomorpha. Univ. Kansas Publ. Mus. Nat. Hist., 5:119-202. ():
1952 Cockrum, E. L. Mammals of Kansas. Univ. Kansas Publ. Mus. Nat. Hist. 7:1-303. ():
1958 Bronson, F. H. Notes on body size of black-tailed jackrabbits. Trans. Kansas Acad. Sci., 61:109-110. ():
1958 Bronson, F. H., and O. W. Tiemeier Notes on crop damage by jackrabbits. Trans. Kansas Acad. Sci., 61:226-228. ():
1958 Bronson, F. H., and O. W. Tiemeier Reproduction and age distribution of black-tailed jackrabbits in southwestern Kansas. J. Wildlf. Mgmt., 22:409-414. ():
1960 Bowen, R. E., K. J. McMahon, and R. W. Mitchell Infectious diseases in a black-tailed jack rabbit (Lepus californicus melanotis, Mearns) population in southwestern Kansas. Trans. Kansas Acad. Sci., 63:276-284. ():
1961 West, R. R., M. H. Bartel, and M. L .Plenert Use of forms by the black-tailed jack rabbit in southwestern Kansas. Trans Kansas Acad. Sci., 64:344-348. ():
1965 Hansen, M. F. M. H. Bartel, E. T. Lyons, and B. El-Rawi The black-tailed jackrabbit in Kansas. Part II. Helminth and arthropod parasites. Tech. Bull. Kansas Agric. Exp. Station, 140:38-64. ():
1965 Tiemeier, O. W., M. F. Hansen, and K. J. McMahon The black-tailed jack rabbit in Kansas. Kansas Agric. Exp. Sta. Tech. Bull., 140:1-75. ():
1975 Choate, J. R., and E. D. Fleharty Synopsis of native, Recent mammals of Ellis County, Kansas Occasional Papers of The Museum, Texas Tech University (37):1-80
1985 Jones, J. K., Jr., D. M. Armstrong, and J. R. Choate University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. 1-371pp.
1996 Best, T. L. Lepus californicus Mammalian Species 530():1-10
1999 Wilson, D. E., and S. Ruff Smithsonian Institution Press, Washsington, DC. 1-750pp.
2008 Timm, R. M., G. R. Pisani, J. R. Choate, N. A. Slade, G. A. Kaufman, and D. W. Kaufman, . pp.
Account Last Updated:
7/13/2017 10:18:29 AM

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