Forest Findings: Cottontail Rabbit

by Violet Wallerstein

There are two main types of rabbits that are found in New Jersey, the Eastern cottontail and the New England cottontail. One of our writers spotted two rabbits outside the Methodists Archives one night, but the exact species of rabbit cannot be determined because they are so similar.

According to National Geographic, the Eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus, is the most common type of cottontail. They can live up to three years in the wild and typically weigh two to three pounds; they also sport a brown-gray coat of fur. These rabbits live on the fringes of open spaces, but are also capable of adapting to human environments, such as the campus of Drew University. The Eastern cottontail is an herbivore and grazes on grasses and other plants at night. In the winter, when vegetation is more sparse, these fuzzy friends eat more twigs and bark.

New Hampshire Fish and Game states that the New England cottontails, Sylvilagus transitionalis, live in early successional habitats and scrublands. This rabbit also has a brown-gray coat, which is why it is often confused with the Eastern cottontail. Like the Eastern cottontail, they are also active at night and have the same diet. The New England cottontail is threatened, largely due to a lack of habitat. Hunting of these rabbits has been restricted in parts of New England in order to help the recovery of this species. Conservationists are working to help the cottontail through habitat projects as well as captive breeding programs.

To tell the species apart, size of the body, eyes and ears are often used. The Eastern cottontail is a bit larger with longer ears and smaller eyes than the New England cottontail. There is also a slight difference in habitat, as the Eastern cottontail more easily lives in fragmented habitats whereas the New England cottontail needs a more forested area with young shrubs and trees.

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