Rabbits are small hopping mammals and North America harbors more than half their population. Families include bucks, does and kits (bunnies); habitats vary from deserts, to wetlands to suburbs.
Though they are related, hares are usually bigger overall. Baby hares (leverets) are precocial — born with fur, eyes opened, and capable of movement; however, kits are born altricial — with little or no hair, eyes closed and helpless.
Ubiquitous defines the eastern cottontail which reaches reproductive maturity at two to three months. It breeds nearly year round in Florida, but mainly from February through September. A nest is dug into a cup-size depression lined with fur and grass, even in an open yard. Gestation endures 26 to 30 days, producing three or four litters yearly with four to seven kits. Kit mortality is at least one in three (nest flooding a factor). After birthing, breeding immediately resumes. In the wild, lifespan is three years.
This rabbit frequents edges offering cover and does not burrow. It is most active at dawn and dusk — crepuscular. It consumes green vegetation — herbivorous. In the winter, nourishment consists of buds, twigs and bark. Chisel-like incisors neatly clip plants. Incidentally, deer damage is ragged.
Nature accommodates survival. Brown or gray fur provides camouflage. Advantageous are long ears and fine vision. Thumping forewarns danger. Tails are helpful. For example, when the eastern cottontail is pursued, its short and fluffy white tail becomes the focal point of the predator, such as a hawk or dog. During the chase, the rabbit zigzags and the perplexed aggressor has to refocus on its prey. This rabbit can flee at 18 mph. If apprehended, it kicks its powerful, large hind legs, applies its sharp claws and bites.
In Florida, another species is the marsh rabbit, an able swimmer. The Lower Keys marsh rabbit, a subspecies, is labeled the "playboy bunny" because the Playboy Foundation partly funded its research. The black-tailed jackrabbit, an introduced desert species, is actually a hare. It displays characteristic long black-tipped ears. Selected in the 1930 and 1940 decades to train greyhounds in the Miami area, it still thrives particularly around Miami International Airport.
The invasive, burrowing European rabbits are widely domesticated for pets, meat and fur in a variety of colors and patterns. They were extensively kept in ancient Rome. The rex (named after the rex gene), from France, has velvet-like fur. The Angora, from Turkey, is raised for yarn. The Florida white (with albino red eyes) is popular for show. The Belgian hare is a rabbit bred to resemble a hare. Hares are not domesticated.
Did you know? A fecund female rabbit might generate 800 descendants yearly. When happy, rabbits jump in the air (a "binky.") Their teeth wear down but never stop growing. Their meat is leaner than chicken. Their nitrogen-high urine enriches lemon trees. Supposedly, around 600 B.C. in Europe, rabbit feet became lucky charms! VV
Haiku by Hailey R. Scalia, 9
Hip hop bunny flop
Out at morning out at dusk
Goodbye fluffy tail!