Jackrabbits are fascinating creatures, known for their speed and agility in the wild. Their young, often referred to as “baby jackrabbits,” are born with eyes open and fully furred, which are distinguishing characteristics of hares as opposed to rabbits. Baby jackrabbits vary in size depending on species, with the black-tailed jackrabbit weighing 3-7 pounds and having a length of about two feet when fully grown.
Life as a baby jackrabbit involves growth and development at a swift pace. In their first weeks, young jackrabbits require nourishment in the form of milk, typically found in specialized care instructions for orphaned animals such as those provided by WildCare. As they grow, their diet expands to include solid foods such as fruit, and they learn to evade predators using their remarkable speed, often reaching up to 40 mph in short bursts.
- Baby jackrabbits are actually hares, born with fur and eyes open
- Orphaned jackrabbits require specialized care and feeding during early weeks
- Young jackrabbits eventually develop impressive speed to evade predators
Table of contents
- Key Takeaways
- Jackrabbit Basics
- Physical Characteristics
- Life Cycle and Reproduction
- Care and Handling of Orphaned Jackrabbits
- Common Predators and Threats
- Frequently Asked Questions
Jackrabbit vs Hare
Jackrabbits are actually a type of hare, not rabbits. They belong to the same family, Leporidae, and share several characteristics, but hares are generally larger than rabbits and have taller hind legs and longer ears. Hares like the Antelope Jackrabbit (Lepus Alleni) are known for their impressive speed and agility. Another key difference between rabbits and hares is their offspring: hares give birth to fully furred and mobile young (called leverets), while rabbits produce hairless and helpless newborns.
Range and Habitat
Jackrabbits are widespread across North America, particularly in deserts, scrublands, and open spaces. The White-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii) is a species native to western North America. While some rabbit species dig burrows or seek cover in logs, hares, like the black-tailed jackrabbit, often rest in small depressions dug beneath sagebrush or other vegetation.
Diet and Feeding Habits
Jackrabbits are herbivores, primarily feeding on various types of vegetation such as grasses and shrubs. They also consume the bark of young trees and can even eat certain leaves in moderation, like maple leaves. Their dietary choices are primarily dictated by seasonal availability, allowing them to survive in diverse habitats across North America. In some cases, they might feed on fruits like olives if they are within their foraging range. Their herbivorous diet allows them to thrive even in harsh desert environments, where plant life is scarce.
Size and Coloring
Leverets, or baby jackrabbits, are born with their eyes open and already have fur on their bodies. As they grow, their size can vary, with adult black-tailed jackrabbits weighing between 3-7 pounds and reaching approximately two feet in length. The coloration of these animals can range from tan, grey, silver, brown, black, or a combination of these shades.
Ears and Eyes
One distinct feature of jackrabbits is their exceptionally large ears, which can be 10-13 cm long. These ears are not just for show; they serve a purpose in dissipating heat from the hare’s body and improving their hearing capabilities. Moreover, jackrabbits have a unique ability to sleep with their eyes open. This helps them to remain alert for potential predators even while resting.
Jackrabbits, such as the black-tailed species, have tails measuring about 50-112 mm in length. The tail is typically shorter than those found in other rabbit species and is characterized by a dark upper side, giving the black-tailed jackrabbit its name. The tail plays a role in balance and communication among these agile animals.
Life Cycle and Reproduction
Birth and Weaning
Jackrabbits, also known as hares, reproduce through a process called mating. The female jackrabbit, after becoming pregnant, gives birth to her offspring after a gestation period of 36 to 43 days for white-tailed jackrabbits and 41 to 47 days for black-tailed jackrabbits. The baby jackrabbits, known as leverets, are born in litters, which can have as many as 14 kits.
Leverets grow rapidly and can be weaned off their mothers at a young age. After just two weeks, these baby jackrabbits can live independently. Although they continue to grow after weaning, their growth rate varies depending on the breed. More information on rabbit growth rates can be found in this guide.
Longevity and Lifespan
The life cycle of a jackrabbit starts with birth, followed by the weaning stage, and eventually reaching adulthood. Jackrabbits mate to produce offspring, thus continuing the cycle of life. Leverets grow into adulthood and eventually reach the stage where they can reproduce and continue the life cycle.
In the wild, jackrabbits generally have a shorter lifespan compared to those in captivity, as they face various dangers and threats such as predators, disease, and harsh environmental conditions. However, regardless of the environment, these animals have adapted and continue to thrive, allowing their populations to be stable and maintain a successful life cycle and reproduction process.
Care and Handling of Orphaned Jackrabbits
Recognizing an Orphaned Jackrabbit
Before caring for a baby jackrabbit, it’s important to determine whether or not the animal is truly orphaned. Place small twigs in a tic-tac-toe pattern over the top of the nest and wait 24 hours. If the nest has been disturbed, do not move the baby, as its mother is likely still around.
Appropriate Treatment and Care
When caring for an orphaned jackrabbit, provide a soft, comfortable place for it to nest. A cardboard box lined with a soft towel or shredded paper works well. The box should be just large enough for the bunny to move around in, as baby rabbits like to burrow and feel secure. Keep the baby’s body temperature stable by providing a heating pad, set on low, with a layer of towel between the pad and the box.
Feeding Orphaned Jackrabbits
Avoid overfeeding orphaned jackrabbits, as it can lead to fatal intestinal disease. Rabbit mothers typically nurse their babies for approximately 5 minutes a day. Consult a wildlife rehabber or rabbit veterinarian for guidance on the appropriate diet and feeding schedule for the baby jackrabbit.
Releasing Back Into the Wild
Once the orphaned jackrabbit is healthy and strong, it should be released back into the wild. Ensure the animal is at an appropriate age and size for release and work with a wildlife rescue organization, such as WildCare, to determine the best time and location for reintroduction to its natural habitat. Remember, the goal is to minimize human intervention and allow the jackrabbit to thrive in the wild.
Common Predators and Threats
Predators in the Wild
Jackrabbit babies, also known as leverets, face various predators in their natural habitat, including hawks, eagles, foxes, coyotes, and bobcats. Hawks and eagles are keen hunters and spot their prey from up in the sky, swooping down and using their sharp talons to capture the vulnerable jackrabbit babies.
Foxes and coyotes are also natural predators of leverets, as they have a keen sense of smell and superb hunting skills. Both animals are known to be cunning and efficient when tracking down and hunting jackrabbits. Bobcats, too, are skilled hunters that pose a significant threat to baby jackrabbits, particularly in desert regions.
In some instances, even smaller animals like groundhogs and crows can pose a threat to baby jackrabbits. Although groundhogs are primarily herbivores, they have been known to consume other small animals, including baby rabbits, when the opportunity arises. Similarly, crows are opportunistic feeders and, in some cases, may take advantage of a vulnerable and unprotected leveret.
Threats from Humans
While human beings are not direct predators of baby rabbits, they still pose a significant threat through habitat destruction, pollution, and illegal hunting. Environmental threats like pollution and habitat encroachment can reduce the availability of food for jackrabbits and result in population decline.
In addition, illegal hunting poses an indirect threat to baby jackrabbits, as it can reduce the overall population, making it more difficult for leverets to survive. Finally, larger predators like bears and wolves, though rare, are capable of preying on rabbits as well. It is essential to be vigilant in protecting the jackrabbit population by preserving their habitats and curbing illegal hunting activities.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do baby jackrabbits eat?
Baby jackrabbits rely on their mother’s milk for nourishment during the early stages of their life. Newborns up to 1 week old consume 2 to 2.5 cc/ml of milk twice daily, and this amount increases as they age. By 3 to 7 weeks, they consume 13 to 15 cc/ml during each feeding, still twice daily. As they grow older, they start to eat solid foods like tiny pieces of cut-up apples or bananas. They also eat hay, fruits, and vegetables, though some foods must be checked for suitability, like cherries.
How to care for a found baby jackrabbit?
Caring for a baby jackrabbit requires providing appropriate food and a safe environment. A diet of goat’s milk or a milk replacement formulated for rabbits is ideal for their early life, with amounts changing as they grow. It’s crucial to ensure that they cannot access food they should not ingest, like bread or toxic plants like tulips. As they mature, gradually introduce safe foods such as arugula while ensuring the environment is comfortable and secure.
How fast can baby jackrabbits grow?
Baby jackrabbits grow rapidly. By the time they are 3 to 4 weeks old, they are already the size of a wild cottontail of the same age. At this stage, they begin to transition from milk to solid foods. Weaning typically occurs between 7 to 9 weeks, and the baby jackrabbits start to exhibit more independence.
Are baby jackrabbits and cottontails different?
Yes, baby jackrabbits and cottontails are different. They belong to separate genera: Lepus and Sylvilagus, respectively. Baby jackrabbits, or leverets, appear larger even at birth compared to cottontails. They also have longer ears and legs, which enable them to run faster and escape predators more effectively. This size difference can potentially lead to confusion and improper care and diet if a found “baby rabbit” is mistaken for a cottontail.
Can a jackrabbit be domesticated?
Jackrabbits are wild animals and should not be considered as pets. While they can be raised in captivity for rehabilitation or educational purposes, they exhibit behaviors that make them unsuitable for domestication. These animals are better suited to their natural environment, where they can thrive and contribute to their ecosystem. Domestic rabbits, on the other hand, are derived from a different species and have been selectively bred to adapt well to human care.
What are the natural predators of baby jackrabbits?
Baby jackrabbits are vulnerable to many predators. Hawks, eagles, owls, coyotes, foxes, and even snakes pose a danger to them. Their natural instincts to hide, freeze, or flee at high speeds are essential for their survival. As they grow and gain experience, they develop a better understanding of how to avoid these threats effectively.