Jackrabbit

This desert-dwelling species is a true hare. It is able to twist and turn at speed, and can even swim away from danger.

Living in relatively open country poses particular dangers to a species like the black-tailed jackrabbit, making it an obvious target for a host of predators. These hares therefore tend to rest during the day, becoming active towards dusk. Although they are solitary by nature, jackrabbits tend to feed in groups. They can run at speeds of up to 72 kph (45 mph) and are able to jump as far as 6m (19 ft) at a single bound. It tends to run rather than to take cover if threatened.

Jackrabbits are actually a type of hare and so share many of the hare’s characteristics, from long ears to large, hairy hind feet. Jackrabbits live in dry areas with only sparse plant cover. This has benefited the species in the past. Overgrazing of the land by cattle in the arid south-west of the United States and Mexico has created an ideal habitat for jackrabbits.

Female jackrabbits are larger than males. They have grey fur with reddish and brown flecks. Their undersides are paler, and their tails and the tips of their huge ears are black. Like other hares, male jackrabbits indulge in frenzied fights during the breeding season.

Unlike other hares, jackrabbits make use of burrows. They do not dig their own, but they modify underground shelters made by tortoises. Jackrabbits feed on grasses and herbaceous plants, which also supply them with nearly all the water they need. In summer it eats green plants and grass, and more woody vegetation in winter. This rabbit, like all lagomorphs, eats its feces. It is thought to obtain additional nutrients when the material passes through its digestive system a second time.

Several litters of 1 to 6 young may be born each year. The gestation period is 43 days on average. The young are born fully furred, in a shallow depression on the ground.

Distribution: Western and central USA, east to Texas and southwards into northern Mexico as well as Baja California. Introduced to Kentucky, New Jersey and Nantucket Island.

Habitat: Prairie, cultivated land, arid scrub.

Weight: 2.2 - 5.5 kg (5 - 12 lb); females are heavier.

Length: 46 - 76 cm (18 - 30 in).

Maturity: Maybe mature by 7 months, but do not breed until the following year.

Gestation Period: 41 - 47 days.

Breeding: 1 - 6, typically 3; weaning occurs by 28 days; females may have up to 6 litters per year.

Diet: Herbivorous, eating grass, herbs and twigs.

Lifespan: Up to 5 years, although many die in their first year.

Status: Common.

Eyes

Eyesight is important for alerting these lagomorphs to potential danger.

Ears

Sound travels over long distances in the desert, and the large ears help detect noises.

Colouration

Brownish-black upperparts and white underparts.

Recognition

The distinctive feature of this species is the black stripe extending down the tail. They are very wary by nature.

Hind legs

These are strong and powerful, enabling the hare to run quickly.

FORMS

These jackrabbits do not burrow, but instead, rest in holes, known as forms, that they excavate in the ground.

The ears of the black-tailed jackrabbit are nearly 11 cm (4.25 in) long.

Black Jackrabbit

These jackrabbits occur only on the volcanic island of Espiritu Santo in the Gulf of California, off western Mexico. The island has rocky hills and steep-sided valleys, but little running water; consequently, only desert shrubs and cacti survive there, along with some grasses.

Black jackrabbits are solitary animals. They do not dig burrows into the rocky volcanic soil, but take shelter in shallow hollows, often scraped out under the shade of a bush.

By day, the jackrabbits are very easy to spot moving around against the pale background of the islands’ vegetation and rocky slopes, making them vulnerable to predatory birds such as American kestrels and caracaras. They are therefore most active during the night, when they can move more freely under the cover of darkness.

Black jackrabbits usually have a few white hairs on the tops of their otherwise black heads. The dark fur extends down the back and the rest of the body is covered with glossy brown fur, which is grizzled with long cinnamon guard hairs. The soles of the feet have heavy padding. As in other hare species, female black jackrabbits tend to be larger than the males.

Black jackrabbits feed almost exclusively on grasses. However, at the driest time of year, when green vegetation is most scarce, these hares survive by gnawing bark. They obtain all the water they need from their plant food.

Distribution: Restricted to the Gulf of California off western Mexico.

Habitat: Steep valleys with shrubs and cacti.

Food: Mainly grasses, plus some bark.

Size: 57 cm (22.5 in); 1.5 kg (3.25 lb).

Maturity: 1 year.

Breeding: Up to 3 litters of 2 - 4 young from January to July; gestation is 41 - 43 days.

Life span: 5 years.

Status: Near threatened.

Tehuantepec Jackrabbit

These nocturnal jackrabbits are found only on the northern coast of the Gulf of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico. Tehuantepec jackrabbits live in the forests that grow on sand dunes surrounding salt-water lagoons.

Antelope Jackrabbit

Size: 48 - 63 cm (19 - 25 in); 2 - 5 kg (4.5 - 11 lb).

This jackrabbit lives in southern Arizona and along the Pacific coast of northern Mexico. It occupies highland areas in the Sonoran Desert, and is especially common on mesas - the steep-sided tables of rock that project from the ground in this region. There is no breeding season, and female antelope rabbits produce several litters per year, each of about three young. Antelope jackrabbits are nocturnal. They do not hide in burrows during the day, but rely on their high speed running to escape from predators.

Gallery of Jackrabbit