Identifying cottontails and rabbits is very difficult, often requiring the use of skulls to distinguish between species. One easily observed field marking that helps to distinguish between the Nuttall’s or mountain cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttalli), which I wrote about in April, and the Audubon Cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii) is the amount of hair in the ear. The Nuttall’s cottontail has longer, more abundant hairs in its ears while the Audubon cottontail’s ears are sparsely haired – very small visual differences.
Habitat also provides a clue to the cottontail species. Although both the Nuttall’s and Audubon cottontails are found throughout the western United States, Nuttall’s is mostly an animal of the sagebrush area while the Audubon cottontail prefers arid grasslands and desert scrub.
The Audubon cottontail has mixed brownish and blackish hairs dorsally (on the back) and is white beneath. The tips of its erect ears are black. The nape is brown.
Grasses are the main component of the Audubon cottontail’s diet, although they will eat leaves, fallen fruit or even acorns. Unlike some other cottontails they eat very little bark, shrubs or twigs. These cottontails rarely drink but rather get most of their moisture from their food or dew.
Coyotes, bobcats, foxes, dogs and large owls are the Audubon cottontail’s enemies. These Audubon cottontails were living at the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Reno NV, a place relatively free of natural predators. Rabbits generally are quite adaptable. They were eating mountain ash (Sorbus scopulina) fruits that had fallen to the ground.
Like most people, I think cottontails are cute!