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Eastern Cottontails

Eastern cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus) vary in color from gray to brown. They have big ears, large hind feet and small white tails.

Cottontails are herbivores that eat grasses, clovers and dandelions in summer and bark, buds and twigs in winter. They are also “coprophagous,” which means they eat their own droppings. To avoid predators, a cottontail may eat quickly then move to a protected location. There, it excretes soft fecal pellets, which it then eats. This allows its body to better digest any nutrients.

Female cottontails can have up to eight litters during warm-weather months with four or five young per litter. Gestation is about 28 days, so during peak breeding season, females will be both pregnant and nursing. Mothers only feed their young once or twice within a 24-hour period, usually at night. The young are on their own in about three weeks, when they’re 4 to 5 inches long and fully furred with open eyes and upright ears. Most do not survive their first season, though, and are consumed by predators that need food for their own survival and that of their young. In this way, cottontails play an important role in the greater natural food chain.