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Fauna Feature: Eastern Cottontail

Posted on 4/2/2021
Get to know the Eastern Cottontail, Iowa's native rabbit!

You can spot rabbits just about everywhere in Iowa. From green spaces in our biggest cities to the rolling hills of our rural farms these furry mammals are a regular sight. Even though many of us see them almost daily there is a lot we may not know about these small mammals. Here are five fun facts to help you get better acquainted with Iowa's Eastern Cottontail. 

Their teeth never stop growing.

Tough grasses can be hard on teeth so rabbit teeth have to be able to handle the challenges. To keep up with all their chewing rabbit teeth never stop growing. This can lead to problems. If a rabbit's diet changes & they stop consuming enough tough foods this constant growth can cause the teeth to become overgrown leading to health issues & starvation. 

They really do consume their droppings!

This might sound a little disgusting to humans but rabbits do consume some of their fecal pellets. This gives their digestive tracts a second chance at extracting as much nutrition as possible, something that is very important when your diet is made up of tough, fibrous plants.

They mature pretty quickly.

Rabbits unlike hares are born nearly bald & with their eyes closed, but this doesn't last for long. That fine coat of fur begins to grow almost immediately & their eyes typically start to open between 4 & 7 days after birth. They start to venture out of the nest at between 2 & 3 weeks old & are completely weened & independent by 5 weeks with most nests being abandoned by 7 weeks. 

They have A LOT of babies.

There's a reason that rabbits are a symbol of fertility. Rabbits reach maturity at just 4 months old, female rabbits are fertile just 24 hours after delivering a litter & they average 3 to 4 litters each season. Each litter will have 1 to 12 kits so that's a lot of babies!

They aren't rodents.

Rabbits might look rodent-like but they are part of a different family of mammals altogether. Rabbits are lagomorphs, a family of animals that includes all rabbits, hares, & pikas. Lagomorphs differ from rodents in a few key ways - they have 4 incisor teeth in their upper jaw instead of 2 like rodents, they are strictly vegetarian rather than omnivorous like rodents, and they can only breathe through their noses and not their mouths. 

Eastern Cottontail Courtesy of the USFWS


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