Even though it has “rabbit” in its common name, the black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) is a hare. What is the difference? Rabbits are born without fur with closed eyes and are totally helpless. At birth hares are fully furred with open eyes and they can move about independently within a few minutes.
Also called a black-tailed hare, the black-tailed jackrabbit is common in grasslands and open areas throughout the West and in Mexico. Black-tailed jackrabbits are often associated with the sagebrush steppe and cactus country. They can be found at altitudes as high as 12,000′. This jackrabbit is very adaptable and often lives near cities, sometimes creating problems on airport runways.
A large hare, the black-tailed jackrabbit has brown fur dappled with black on its back. The flanks are whitish. Its long ears are tipped with black and lined with black on the outside edge. As its name implies, the upper side of the black-tailed jackrabbit’s tail is black.
Black-tailed jackrabbits eat a variety of herbs, grasses, and shrubs, including cultivated plants. They are most active during the early morning and evening when feeding. Black-tailed jackrabbits are coprophagous (feeding on feces). They produce two types of fecal pellets. One pellet type is hard and dry – the normal waste product. The other pellet is soft and covered in mucous. The jackrabbit takes this pellet directly from its anus and eats it while resting during the day. It is thought that this reingestion is involved with vitamin nutrition by making available B vitamins produced in the gut by bacteria.
Depending on the weather, breeding can occur year-round. A litter usually contains about four young, but litters of seven are not uncommon. A year-old female can produce 14 or more young per year. Jackrabbits do not utilize burrows but rather make “forms” for resting and nesting. Forms are slight, hollow depressions on the ground, often against rocks or other protection.
Jackrabbits contend with many predators including raptors, snakes (young jackrabbits), dogs, and other carnivores – as well as man. Dogs can get tapeworms from eating jackrabbits. Handling infected jackrabbits or eating their undercooked meat can spread tularemia to humans.
This black-tailed jackrabbit was resting under a juniper in one of our pastures (Modoc County CA).