The eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus
) is a species that people often see in their yards, and the more unfortunate find in their gardens. These garden eaters are a true native species to Ohio, meaning they were here before European settlers came to America! The eastern cottontail became more abundant after the settlers arrived because the settlers would clear trees creating more of the cottontail’s favorite habitat. Besides prairie, this mammal frequents swamps, woodlands, and sometimes forests. The species is crepuscular, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk. They spend most of the daylight hours sleeping in their fur-lined nests, often built in hollow logs or under shrubs. They are often found snacking in vegetable gardens because grazing on lawns does not provide all the needed nutrition. As a small herbivore they are close to the bottom of the food chain, this means they fall prey to many species.
|An eastern cottontail stands at attention, watching for danger while munching a clover flower. |
There are many animals that you can peg as either a predator or prey by observing their physical characteristics. The eastern cottontail is a prey species, as suggested by several of its outward traits. They have large eyes on either side of their head, enabling them to see almost 360 degrees, increasing their chances of seeing a predator before it attacks. Cottontails also have large ears to listen for anything trying to sneak up on it. When the ears are laid back against the cottontail’s body it is relaxed, and when the ears are upright the cottontail feels threatened. If you have ever watched a cottontail, you have probably seen their nose twitching, sniffing for danger. Eastern cottontails have an excellent sense of smell to help them detect predators and food. Some of their predators include owls, coyotes, cats and dogs.
|An eastern cottontail shows four characteristics of a prey animal: keen nose, sensitive whiskers, big ears and panoramic eyes. |