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Cottontail rabbits
Wild rabbit us.jpg
Eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvìlagus floridanus)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Lagomorpha
Family: Leporidae
Genus: Sylvilagus
Gray, 1867
Type species
Lepus sylvaticus
Bachman, 1837
(=Lepus sylvaticus floridanus J. Allen, 1890)

27, see text

North American Cottontail Rabbit
A North American cottontail, Waterloo, Ontario

Cottontail rabbits are the leporid species in the genus Sylvilagus, found in the Americas. Most Sylvilagus species have stub tails with white undersides that show when they retreat, giving them their characteristic name. However, this feature is not present in all cottontails nor is it unique to the genus.

The genus is widely distributed across North America, Central America and northern and central South America, though most species are confined to some particular regions. Most species live in nests called forms, and all have altricial young. An adult female averages three litters per year, which can occur in any season; occurrence, and litter size depend on several factors including time of the year, weather, and location. The average litter size is four but can range from as few as two to as many as eight, most of whom do not go on to survive to adulthood.

Cottontail rabbits show a greater resistance to myxomatosis than European rabbits.


Cottontails are one of several species of Sylvilagus; their closest relative is Brachylagus, the pygmy rabbit. They are more distantly related to the European and other rabbits, and more distantly still to the hares. The cladogram is based on mitochondrial gene analysis.


Sylvilagus audubonii

Sylvilagus nuttallii

Sylvilagus aquaticus

Sylvilagus palustris

Sylvilagus transitionalis

Sylvilagus obscurus

Sylvilagus floridanus

Sylvilagus brasiliensis

Sylvilagus bachmani

Sylvilagus mansuetus

Sylvilagus andinus


The lifespan of a cottontail averages about two years, depending on the location. Almost every living carnivorous creature comparable to or larger in size than these lagomorphs is a potential predator, including such diverse creatures as domestic dogs, cats, humans, snakes, coyotes, mountain lions, foxes, and if the cottontail is showing signs of illness, even squirrels. The cottontail's most frequent predators are various birds of prey. Cottontails can also be parasitized by botfly species including Cuterebra fontinella. Newborn cottontails are particularly vulnerable to these attacks. Cottontails use burrows vacated by other animals, and the burrows are used for long enough periods that predators can learn where the cottontails reside and repeatedly return to prey on the lagomorphs. Though cottontails are prolific animals that can have multiple litters in a year, few of the resulting offspring survive to adulthood. Those that do grow very quickly and are full grown adults at three months.

Eating mechanics

In contrast to rodents, (squirrels, etc.) which generally sit on their hind legs and hold food with their front paws while feeding, cottontail rabbits eat while on all fours. Cottontail rabbits typically only use their nose to move and adjust the position of the food that it places directly in front of its front paws on the ground. The cottontail will turn the food with its nose to find the cleanest part of the vegetation (free of sand and inedible parts) to begin its meal. The only time a cottontail uses its front paws while feeding is when vegetation is above its head on a living plant, at which point the cottontail will lift its paw to bend the branch to bring the food within reach.

Cottontails are rarely found out of their burrows looking for food on windy days, because the wind interferes with their hearing capabilities. Hearing an incoming predator before they get close enough to attack is their primary defense mechanism.


Fossil Sylvilagus
Pleistocene fossil

The subgenera were described in the 19th century based on limited morphological data that have been shown to not be of great use, nor to depict phylogenetic relationships. Molecular studies (limited in scope to the mitochondrial 12S gene) have shown that the currently accepted subgeneric structure, while of some heuristic value, is unlikely to withstand additional scrutiny.

Subgenus Image Common name Scientific name Distribution
Microlagus Sylvilagus bachmani 01035t.JPG Brush rabbit Sylvilagus bachmani West coast of North America, from the Columbia River in Oregon to the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula. Isolated subspecies, San Jose brush rabbit, on San José Island in the Gulf of California.
Sylvilagus Joshua Tree NP - Cottontail - 1d.jpg Desert cottontail Sylvilagus audubonii Western United States from eastern Montana to western Texas, and in Northern and Central Mexico
Sylvilagus cunicularius2.jpg Mexican cottontail Sylvilagus cunicularius Mexico from the state of Sinaloa to the states of Oaxaca and Veracruz
Tochtli-Rabbit-Conejo.jpg Eastern cottontail Sylvilagus floridanus eastern and south-central United States, southern Canada, eastern Mexico, Central America and northernmost South America.
Tres Marias cottontail Sylvilagus graysoni Tres Marias Islands, Mexico
Sylvilagus nuttallii (29723452411).jpg Mountain cottontail Sylvilagus nuttallii Intermountain west of Canada and the United States.
Sylvilagus obscurus 1.jpg Appalachian cottontail or Allegheny cottontail Sylvilagus obscurus eastern United States.
Sylvilagus robustus imported from iNaturalist photo 64270774 on 9 September 2021.jpg Robust cottontail Sylvilagus holzneri southwestern United States and adjacent Mexico
New England cottontail rabbit animal sylvilagus transitionalis.jpg New England cottontail Sylvilagus transitionalis New England, specifically from southern Maine to southern New York.
Tapeti Sylvilagus brasiliensis andinus (12687595295).jpg Andean tapeti Sylvilagus andinus Venezuela south to Peru
Bogota tapeti Sylvilagus apollinaris Colombia
Swamp Rabbit (Sylvilagus aquaticus).jpg Swamp rabbit Sylvilagus aquaticus southern United States.
Sylvilagus brasiliensis1.jpg Common tapeti Sylvilagus brasiliensis Brazil (Venezuela to Argentina when the many unclassified populations are included)
Ecuadorian tapeti Sylvilagus daulensis Ecuador
Dice's cottontail Sylvilagus dicei Costa Rica and Panama
Fulvous tapeti Sylvilagus fulvescens Colombia
Central American tapeti Sylvilagus gabbi Mexico to Panama
Northern tapeti Sylvilagus incitatus San Miguel Island, Panama
Omilteme cottontail Sylvilagus insonus Guerrero, Mexico
Nicefor's tapeti Sylvilagus nicefori Colombia
Marsh Rabbit.jpg Marsh rabbit Sylvilagus palustris southeastern United States
Suriname tapeti Sylvilagus parentum western Suriname
Colombian tapeti Sylvilagus salentus Colombia
Santa Marta tapeti Sylvilagus sanctaemartae Colombia
Western tapeti Sylvilagus surdaster Ecuador
Coastal tapeti Sylvilagus tapetillus Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Venezuelan lowland rabbit Sylvilagus varynaensis western Venezuela

Prehistoric species

  • Sylvilagus hibbardi (Early-Mid Pleistocene)
  • Sylvilagus leonensis - Dwarf cottontail (Late Pleistocene)
  • Sylvilagus webbi (Pleistocene)

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Sylvilagus para niños

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