While many different species of birds prepare to fly south for the winter, rabbits such as the eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) and the New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis), stays put during the long winter months. Both of these rabbits are among the most common mammal species in New England and can be found almost anywhere. They can be notorious for stealing produce from gardens and nibbling on scenic shrubbery, yet despite their tendency to be pests, these little rabbits provide a highly valued backbone for the circle of life.
Both species serve as a staple for almost all predator species in the eastern United States such as foxes, weasels, raccoons and owls. The eastern cottontail itself feeds on a large variety of plant species. Despite its seemingly harmless appetite and its cuddly appearance, this rabbit is extremely territorial and will fiercely chase out any other of its own kind from its claimed pasture.
While both of these rabbits look almost identical in size and color, both have a different background. Only the New England cottontail is native while the eastern cottontail was introduced to the New England region in the 1800s. According to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the eastern cottontail has since become the more common of the two most likely due to reforestation.
A minor difference in these rabbits is an occasional spot found on the top of the head; while the eastern cottontail boasts a white spot, the New England cottontail most commonly has a dark spot. Besides this key difference, these two rabbits are almost impossible to distinguish from one another.
This fall, cottontails will be easier to find as much of the shrubbery they hide themselves in will begin to lose foliage. Find these rabbit species through some of Easton’s trails such as areas managed by the Aspetuck Land Trust, or explore trails throughout Connecticut at CT Woodlands.
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