DESERT COTTONTAIL
Sylvilagus audubonii
(Baird, 1858)


sil-va-la-gus ah-dU-bon-I




An adult Desert Cottontail.
An adult Desert Cottontail from Logan County. Photo by Trey Towers.

Description:
The desert cottontail is difficult to distinguish externally from the eastern cottontail, but is paler, and has longer and more thinly haired ears. Its upperparts are pale grayish brown heavily lined with black and with some yellow.

Distribution:
Desert cottontails inhabit the drier parts of western Kansas, occurring in open uplands, often in sagebrush. In the northern half of the range in Kansas the subspecies is Sylvilagus audubonii baileyi and in the southern part Sylvilagus audubonii neomexicanus.

(, Museum Voucher) (, Observation) (, Literature Record)
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  • Occurrence Summary:  
  • 129 Total Records 
  • 123 Museum Vouchers 
  • 6 Other Observations 
Some county occurrences indicated below may be too imprecise to map above.
County Breakdown: County Name (# occurrences):
Barber (1); Cheyenne (10); Clark (1); Comanche (1); Decatur (2); Finney (7); Ford (1); Gove (5); Grant (2); Greeley (3); Hamilton (5); Haskell (2); Kearney (3); Kiowa (3); Lane (3); Logan (12); Meade (26); Morton (17); Rawlins (6); Seward (8); Stanton (2); Trego (5); Wallace (2); Wichita (2);

Natural History:
Desert cottontails are usually found in dry, open upland habitats, whereas eastern cottontails in the same areas of western Kansas are restricted to riparian thickets along streams. Short-grass prairie with a scattering of shrubs, especially sagebrush, is favored habitat. They may also inhabit cedar "breaks' and rocky areas. Desert cottontails seem less inclined to burrow than their eastern relatives, and usually make "forms" under shrubs, from which they forage over home ranges eight to 15 acres in size. They are most active in early morning and late evening, and while several females may forage close to one another, they are not gregarious animals, and males may engage in territorial disputes. Like eastern cottontails, their populations fluctuate greatly in density.
Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 359-435 mm; tail 39-61 mm; hind foot, 82-101 mm; ear 59-69 mm; weight 900-1375 grams.
Various species of grasses are the most important foods for desert cottontails, but leaves, fruits, and seeds of other plants are also taken when available. The leaves and inner bark of sage is an important secondary food source in some areas of Kansas.
Desert cottontails are usually found in dry, open upland habitats, whereas eastern cottontails in the same areas of western Kansas are restricted to riparian thickets along streams. Short-grass prairie with a scattering of shrubs, especially sagebrush, is favored habitat. They may also inhabit cedar "breaks' and rocky areas. Desert cottontails seem less inclined to burrow than their eastern relatives, and usually make "forms" under shrubs, from which they forage over home ranges eight to 15 acres in size. They are most active in early morning and late evening, and while several females may forage close to one another, they are not gregarious animals, and males may engage in territorial disputes. Like eastern cottontails, their populations fluctuate greatly in density.
Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 359-435 mm; tail 39-61 mm; hind foot, 82-101 mm; ear 59-69 mm; weight 900-1375 grams.
The usual breeding season for the desert cottontail is from April to August or September during which time two to four litters of one to five (usually two or three) young are born. The gestation period is between 28 and 30 days, and newborn young are sparsely haired. They remain along in the fur-lined nest for about two weeks. Up to thirty hours may elapse between periods of nursing, which is usually once a day. When the female returns, she crouches over the nest, and the young stretch up to reach her four pairs of nipples. Growth of the young is rapid, and at ten days of age they are well-furred, and their eyes are fully open. Weaning begins at about two weeks of age, and the young disperse in another week or two.

Occurrence Activity:
Remarks:
The young are consumed by snakes. Tularemia is found in this rabbit, and while today the cure for this disease is relatively simple, sick rabbits should not be handled.Coyotes, red and swift foxes, badgers, and weasels prey on desert cottontails, as well as predators such as red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, and great horned owls, and large bullsnakes and rattlesnakes. Few cottontails live longer than one year, and none more than three years, except in captivity.

Bibliography:
Account Last Updated:
7/13/2017 10:21:01 AM


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