Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the February 24, 2013 Newsletter issued from the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

In this area at dusk and dawn you see large Black-tailed Jackrabbits as well as much smaller cottontails. I've tried many times to photograph the cottontails but in such dim light it's been impossible to get a good picture. However, this week a bit before dusk a cottontail streaked across the road, then froze beneath an Ashe Juniper a stone-toss away, apparently thinking his camouflage made him invisible. That's him above

A rear view -- the black patch on the back apparently being a wound -- is shown below:

Desert Cottontail, SYLVILAGUS AUDUBONII, rear view

I've wanted a picture because in this part of the world we have two very similar cottontail species and I've not been sure which one is so abundant around the cabin. Now with such fine views I'm pretty sure I know: The pictures show a Desert Cottontail, SYLVILAGUS AUDUBONII. The other cottontail species also occurring here is the Eastern Cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus, the common cottontail of eastern North America. Our Desert Cottontail differs from the Eastern in that its ears are relatively larger, and our environment is more like what's described for the Desert Cottontail than for the Eastern.

In western Kansas the two cottontail species' distributions similarly overlap. A University of Kansas webpage says that "The desert cottontail is difficult to distinguish externally from the eastern cottontail, but is paler, and has longer and more thinly haired ears. Its upperparts are pale grayish brown heavily lined with black and with some yellow."

It continues, "Desert cottontails are usually found in dry, open upland habitats, whereas eastern cottontails in the same areas of western Kansas are restricted to riparian thickets along streams."

Desert Cottontails are distributed throughout much of western North America, from Montana and northern California south into the arid parts of south-central Mexico. Here we're close to their eastern boundary.

Each morning a little before dawn I jog by a neighbor's house where numerous dogs perpetually bark and chase whomever passes down the road. The neighbors also set rabbit traps for rabbit stew, though mostly they trap only their own dogs. The amazing thing is that every morning several cottontails can be seen grazing the grass lawn there and along the road, peacefully coexisting with these hysterical, neurotic dogs.