Eastern cottontail rabbits are the most common species of cottontail rabbits.<b></b>
Eastern cottontail rabbits are the most common species of cottontail rabbits.
Photograph by Karine Aigner / NPL / Minden Pictures

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Common Name:
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit
Scientific Name:
Sylvilagus floridanus
Average Life Span In The Wild:
Up to 3 years
15.5 to 18.75 inches
28 to 54 ounces

The sun sets over a quiet backyard garden. A red fox sneaks into the yard, its nose in the air, sniffing loudly—it smells something. It pads over to the bushes when a streak of brown flashes in the greenery. An eastern cottontail rabbit darts out of the bushes, zigging and zagging to throw the surprised fox off of its trail. The speedy rabbit zooms into the nearby woods, easily escaping the potential predator.


Eastern cottontail rabbits—named for their short, cotton-ball-like tails—are the most common species of cottontail rabbits. They can be found from Canada to South America; in the United States, their range stretches from the East Coast to the Midwest.

These rabbits often live on the edges of fields, farms, and other open spaces far from highly populated areas. But sometimes they make their nests in yards and parks near more people.

Eastern cottontails stay mostly hidden during the day but come out at night to eat. They snack on grass and love garden greens like peas and lettuce. (That’s why farmers and gardeners don’t like them very much!) During the winter, these rabbits prefer to eat bark and twigs.


When an eastern cottontail faces a predator—which include hawks, owls, foxes, snakes, and even dogs and cats—it uses its speed to keep it safe, sometimes hopping up to 18 miles an hour. All the zigging and zagging they do makes it harder for other animals to catch them.

Rabbits don’t always leap away from danger, though. Sometimes they freeze in place to blend in with their environment so predators can’t see them. If these don’t work, rabbits will try to fight off a predator by biting and kicking with their powerful back legs.

Their excellent sense of smell helps them stay safe too. They have about 100 million scent receptors in their noses, which they twitch to expose as many of the scent receptors as possible to sniff out danger. An eastern cottontail rabbit can twitch its nose between 20 to 120 times a minute.


Even with their sniffing skills and impressive speed, many rabbits are still snatched by predators. But the eastern cottontail population remains stable since these rabbits breed several times a year and have plenty of babies, called kits, in each litter.

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Kits are born with all their fur and their eyes closed. The mother nurses them only for a few minutes each day and stops after about 10 days. Kits are on their own by three to four weeks of age.