Sylvilagus floridanus Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
Cottontail rabbits are highly adaptable and thrive in practically all Florida habitats except dense forests and swampy areas. The rabbit seen in swamps in Florida is the marsh rabbit, which has an all-brown tail and is a uniformly dark, reddish-brown.
Rabbits are active mainly at night, but can often be seen feeding at dawn and dusk, and sometimes during the day when the weather is cloudy. They eat grasses, herbs and leaves.
Rabbits are famous for their high reproductive output, and the phrase “breeds like a rabbit” is well founded. In Europe in the 1400s, the rabbit was a symbol of lust, depicted in paintings and murals as an associate of Venus, the goddess of love.
A short gestation period, large litters, rapidly developing young and several litters a year combine to make them the most fecund of mammals. In central and southern Florida rabbits breed year around, but in north Florida few young are born between November and February. Unlike European rabbits, which dig extensive warrens complete with maternity chambers, North American rabbits do not burrow. Females choose a well-camouflaged spot to make a cup-shaped depression in the ground and line the nest with grass and soft breast fur. The nest is covered with grass while the female is away foraging.
Eastern cottontail rabbits give birth to 3-6 naked helpless young after a gestation period of 28 days. Female rabbits mate again immediately after giving birth, and they are often pregnant again while they nurse their litter. Young rabbits grow extremely fast. Their eyes open and they are fully furred within a week, and by the end of a month they are weaned and ready to leave the nest. As soon as they are gone their mother is ready to deliver the next litter.
Females can breed when they are about six months old, and may have 7 to 12 litters a year.
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