Snowshoe Hare vs Cottontail Rabbit

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Snowshoe hares and cottontail rabbits might appear quite similar at first glance, but they are actually distinct in multiple ways. Snowshoe hares, scientifically known as Lepus americanus, belong to the hares genus while cottontail rabbits encompass the 16 species of rabbits in the genus Sylvilagus. Both genera fall under the family Leporidae and order Lagomorpha, containing rabbits, hares, and pikas.

Physical differences between the two species can be observed in their size, ear length, and feet. Snowshoe hares are larger, approximately 16-20 inches long and around 3 pounds, featuring longer ears and feet compared to cottontail rabbits which are about 15-17 inches long and weigh around 2 pounds. Moreover, snowshoe hares have an adaptive fur that turns white in winter, allowing them to camouflage in snowy environments, while cottontail rabbits maintain their grayish-brown fur throughout the year.

The habitat, diet, and reproductive behaviors of these mammals also set them apart. Snowshoe hares thrive in dense forests, and their diet consists of various plants, like twigs and bark. Cottontail rabbits, on the other hand, inhabit a wide range of environments and have a more diverse diet, feeding on plants such as grass, leaves, and seeds. They also have differing reproductive traits: baby hares, or leverets, are born fully furred and ready to run, whereas cottontail rabbit kits are born without fur and remain in the nest for up to three weeks.

Key Takeaways

  • Snowshoe hares and cottontail rabbits belong to different genera and have distinct physical features, such as size, fur, and ear length.
  • Their habitats, diets, and reproductive traits set the two species apart, as snowshoe hares thrive in dense forests while cottontail rabbits can be found in a variety of environments.
  • Baby hares, or leverets, are born fully furred and mobile, contrasting with cottontail rabbit kits who are born without fur and stay in the nest longer.

Physical Appearance

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe hares are notably larger than cottontail rabbits, typically measuring 16-20 inches in length and weighing around three pounds. They possess longer ears and feet in comparison to their cottontail rabbit counterparts. The fur of a snowshoe hare has a unique characteristic: it changes color according to the season. During the summer, their coat has a rusty brown hue, while in the winter it transforms to white, which helps them blend with the snow-covered surroundings.

The feet of a snowshoe hare are a key distinguishing feature, with their large size and wide surface area. These unique feet enable them to move efficiently through snow and maintain balance on uneven terrain. Additionally, the hair on their feet provides extra insulation in cold conditions.

Cottontail Rabbit

Cottontail rabbits are smaller in size than snowshoe hares. They typically measure 15-17 inches in length and weigh around two pounds. The fur of a cottontail rabbit remains consistently grayish-brown throughout the year, with flecks of black interspersed within their coat. A defining feature of the cottontail rabbit is their white tail, which distinguishes them from other species.

In comparison to snowshoe hares, cottontail rabbits have shorter ears, which are generally smaller and rounder. Their feet, too, are smaller, which may affect their ability to move through snow-covered environments as efficiently as their snowshoe hare counterparts. However, the feet of cottontail rabbits serve their purpose well in the various environments that they inhabit.

Habitat and Cover

Snowshoe Hare Habitat

Snowshoe hares are found primarily in the northern regions of North America, ranging from Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Montana, and North Dakota to British Columbia and Washington. Their preferred habitat consists of dense, mixed coniferous and deciduous forests with an abundance of young trees, thickets, and shrubs, which provide them with both food and cover from predators.

In winter, snowshoe hares have adapted their large snowshoe-like feet to move easily through deep snow. They rely on their white winter coat for camouflage against the snow. Rather than using dens for shelter, snowshoe hares create hiding spots, called forms, in the snow or under thick vegetation.

Cottontail Rabbit Habitat

Cottontail rabbits, including the eastern cottontail, are native to North America and can be found throughout a variety of habitats, including suburban areas, forest edges, and open fields. Their preferred habitat consists of dense, brushy thickets of deciduous trees and shrubs, which provide abundant cover for hiding from predators.

Eastern cottontails are known to occupy dens for their shelter. These dens, often abandoned burrows of other animals, serve as their homes and primary escape routes from predators. In addition to dens, they also create hiding spots called forms, similar to snowshoe hares, but primarily under dense vegetation rather than in the snow.

Management of habitat for both snowshoe hares and cottontail rabbits involves the careful preservation and maintenance of native trees, shrubs, and thickets that provide essential cover and food resources. This is particularly important for the New England cottontail, a species of cottontail rabbit that has experienced significant habitat loss and is now a conservation concern.

Diet Overview

Snowshoe Hare Diet

Snowshoe hares primarily have a herbivorous diet. In the summer, they feed on plants such as grass, ferns, and leaves. In the winter, their diet shifts to consuming twigs, the bark from trees, and plants1. Interestingly, snowshoe hares have also been known to occasionally eat dead animals2. They are mainly active at night and do not hibernate3.

Cottontail Rabbit Diet

Cottontail rabbits are also herbivores. They enjoy consuming a variety of vegetables, such as carrots4. A significant part of their diet consists of leafy greens, pelleted food, hay, and other treats5. To maintain their health, it is essential that they have a well-balanced diet which should include ample fiber from hay and other sources6.

Rabbits seem to be eating constantly7 and have a diverse diet, but they are not omnivores8. Their digestive systems are designed to break down plant materials, and they do not have a specialized diet towards meat9. Knowing the difference between deer and rabbit droppings can help determine which of these woodland animals is consuming plants in your yard10.

Reproduction and Offspring

Snowshoe Hare Reproduction

Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) generally have a reproductive age starting at one year old. Mating season for these hares occurs between March and August, during which females can have multiple litters. A typical litter size ranges from one to five baby hares, also known as leverets. Unlike baby rabbits, leverets are born fully furred with their eyes open, and they can hop around within hours of their birth.

Cottontail Rabbit Reproduction

Cottontail rabbits, on the other hand, belong to the genus Sylvilagus and consist of 16 different species, including the New England cottontail. Their breeding season usually spans from February to September. Like snowshoe hares, cottontail rabbits can have multiple litters in a year, with each litter containing one to seven babies, referred to as kits.

An important distinction between the two species is that newborn cottontail rabbits are born blind and hairless. These kits are more dependent on their mothers, requiring considerable attention for the first two weeks of their lives. As the kits grow, they begin to develop fur and open their eyes, eventually becoming more independent.

Mating behaviors differ between the two species as well. While snowshoe hares tend to be promiscuous, involving multiple partners, some cottontail rabbits have been observed to mate for life, demonstrating varying degrees of monogamy.

In summary, both snowshoe hares and cottontail rabbits exhibit unique reproductive habits, litter sizes, and offspring characteristics. Understanding these differences can help in appreciating the adaptability and resiliency of these species within their respective habitats.

Predators and Survival

Snowshoe Hare Predators

Snowshoe hares are known for their incredible leaping, running, and swimming abilities, which help them avoid predation. Their most notable adaptation for survival is their seasonal camouflage – their fur changes color from brown in the summer to white in the winter, enabling them to blend in with their environment. Despite these abilities, snowshoe hares still face various predators.

Predators of the snowshoe hare include lynx, foxes, coyotes, owls, and birds like crows and ravens. The snowshoe hare’s mortality rate is primarily influenced by predation and the availability of suitable habitat. The population of snowshoe hares also has a well-documented predator-prey relationship with lynx, as both species’ numbers fluctuate in a cyclical manner.

Cottontail Rabbit Predators

Cottontail rabbits, like snowshoe hares, employ various survival strategies. They are known for their speed, agility, and their ability to escape predators with their various vocalizations. Cottontails have a different set of predators than snowshoe hares, although there may be some overlap.

Common predators of cottontail rabbits include hawks, owls, snakes, and various mammals such as foxes, coyotes, and even domestic dogs and cats. In addition to predation, survival challenges faced by cottontail rabbits include habitat loss and competition for resources with other small mammals like mice and voles.

As both the snowshoe hare and cottontail rabbit face an array of predators and survival challenges, their adaptation and behavior play an essential role in their existence in various environments.

Conservation Status

Snowshoe Hare Conservation

Snowshoe hares are not considered an endangered species. Their populations can fluctuate due to various factors like predators and food availability, but they are not at significant risk. However, habitat loss is a concern for snowshoe hares as they require dense vegetation for cover from predators. Snowshoe hare prefer dense conifer growth but can also occur in deciduous areas. Conserving their habitat is essential for maintaining healthy snowshoe hare populations.

In order to protect snowshoe hare habitat, various organizations and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) agencies work together to manage the areas where these animals live. There are volunteer opportunities for individuals interested in getting involved in habitat preservation, including assisting in habitat restoration projects, planting native vegetation, and monitoring snowshoe hare populations.

Cottontail Rabbit Conservation

Cottontail rabbits are also not considered endangered, with the exception of the New England cottontail, which has faced significant population declines due to habitat loss. They also need dense ground vegetation for protection from predators. New England cottontails prefer dense deciduous vegetation, which has been impacted by human development, fragmentation, and invasive plants.

Efforts to conserve the New England cottontail focus on restoring their habitat by managing early successional forests and shrublands. This includes the removal of invasive plants, creating a mosaic of young and older forest patches, and promoting the growth of native vegetation. The DNR also works closely with landowners to provide conservation guidance and create partnerships for habitat protection.

Volunteer opportunities for those interested in cottontail rabbit conservation involve participating in habitat restoration and monitoring projects, as well as assisting with educational and outreach programs to a broader audience. These efforts collectively contribute to the long-term well-being of both snowshoe hare and cottontail rabbit populations, ensuring their continued presence in the wild.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the key differences between Snowshoe Hares and Cottontail Rabbits?

Snowshoe Hares and Cottontail Rabbits are similar-looking but distinct animals. Snowshoe Hares are generally larger, with longer ears and much longer feet. Cottontail Rabbits, on the other hand, belong to the genus Sylvilagus, which consists of 16 species. One key difference between the two is that Snowshoe Hares change their fur color to white during winter while Cottontails don’t.

How does the habitat of a Snowshoe Hare differ from that of a Cottontail Rabbit?

Cottontail Rabbits are often found in areas with dense brush and woodlands, where they can easily find cover and evade predators. Snowshoe Hares, on the other hand, prefer more open areas such as meadows and the edges of forests. The varying preferences in habitat allow them to thrive in different environments.

What are the main differences in behavior between the two species?

Snowshoe Hares are known to be more active during the night, while Cottontail Rabbits are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk. The two species also have different methods of evading predators: Snowshoe Hares rely on their powerful legs to flee, while Cottontail Rabbits often use their agility to quickly dodge out of danger.

What are the distinct features to identify snowshoe hare and cottontail tracks?

When looking for tracks, Snowshoe Hares leave larger footprints due to their bigger feet, which helps them traverse snowy terrains more easily. Cottontail Rabbits, being smaller in size, leave smaller and more compact footprints. These differences can help in identifying the species based on their tracks.

While both species face certain threats, their population trends do differ. Some species of Cottontail Rabbits, like the New England Cottontail, have experienced population decline due to habitat loss and fragmentation. On the other hand, Snowshoe Hares can maintain stable populations in some areas and face fluctuations due to factors such as predator-prey cycles.

Do both Snowshoe Hares and Cottontail Rabbits change their fur color in winter?

Unlike Snowshoe Hares, which change their fur color to white during winter to camouflage in the snow, Cottontail Rabbits do not undergo any fur color changes. This difference in fur color adaptation helps Snowshoe Hares blend into their surroundings and avoid predators in snowy landscapes. As mentioned earlier, Are Rabbits Smart? provides information about rabbit intelligence, which can help readers understand the adaptability and behavior of these animals.

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