Eastern cottontail rabbits begin birthing their first litters of the year this week.
This medium-sized mammal with long ears, large hind legs, shorter front legs, a short fluffy tail and soft fur begins breeding in February. They may birth as many eight litters in a year.
Each litter produces one to nine young – born about five inches long – that will leave the nest after about two weeks.
Rabbits form their homes in clumps of grass, under brush piles, or in thickets. While they may venture into the open, they usually don’t go far from dense cover.
They feed almost entirely on plants, preferring bluegrass, wheat, clovers, lespedeza, crabgrass and other sedges, forbs, and cultivated plants.
Many wild carnivores prey on cottontails, and humans harvest roughly three-million pounds of rabbit meat each year in Missouri. By converting plant food into animal matter, rabbits constitute an important link the food chain of life.
Keep an eye out for newborn rabbits as you get out and discover nature this week. Learn more about Eastern cottontail rabbits, and find places near you to watch them in the wild, with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide.
Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.