EASTERN & DESERT
Often as I jog just before dawn I see rabbits
hopping about grazing in the dewy grass. As with the Pauraque, whose definite
identification eluded me for years, with these rabbits I'm just never sure whether I'm
seeing SYLVILAGUS FLORIDANUS, the Eastern Cottontail so common in much of eastern North
America, or SYLVILAGUS AUDUBONII, the more western Desert Cottontail. We're also within
the distribution area of a couple of jackrabbit species, but those are such long-eared,
rangy-looking and usually easily spooked species that I know I'm seeing them during my
In western Kansas the two cottontail species similarly overlap in distribution. 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
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."
I suspect that that's also the case here -- that out in the scrub we have Desert
Cottontails, but down in the lush vegetation along streams in valley floors we have
But, who are these black silhouettes I see in the mornings when I jog in this valley
beside a manmade reservoir surrounded by scrubby slopes?
You can see if you detect obvious differences between the species. A good picture of an
Eastern Cottontail is at http://www.duke.edu/~jspippen/mammals/mammals.htm.
A good picture of a Desert Cottontail is at http://wc.pima.edu/~bfiero/tucsonecology/animals/mamm_deco.htm.