Eastern Cottontail - Reproduction

Reproduction

The onset of breeding varies between populations and within populations from year to year. The eastern cottontail breeding season begins later with higher latitudes and elevations. Temperature rather than diet has been suggested as a primary factor controlling onset of breeding; many studies correlate severe weather with delays in the onset of breeding. In New England breeding occurs from March to September. In New York the breeding season occurs from February to September, in Connecticut from mid-March to mid-September. In Alabama the breeding season begins in January. In Georgia the breeding season lasts 9 months and in Texas breeding occurs year-round. Populations in western Oregon breed from late January to early September. Mating is promiscuous.

The nest is a slanting hole dug in soft soil and lined with vegetation and fur. The average measurements are: length 7.09 inches (18.03 cm), width 4.9 inches (12.57 cm), and depth 4.71 inches (11.94 cm). The average period of gestation is 28 days, ranging from 25 to 35 days. Eastern cottontail young are born with a very fine coat of hair and are blind. Their eyes begin to open by 4 to 7 days. Young begin to move out of the nest for short trips by 12 to 16 days and are completely weaned and independent by 4 to 5 weeks. Litters disperse at about 7 weeks. Females do not stay in the nest with the young but return to the opening of the nest to nurse, usually twice a day.

Reproductive maturity occurs at about 2 to 3 months of age. A majority of females first breed the spring following birth; but 10% to 36% of females breed as juveniles (i.e., summer of the year they were born). Males will mate with more than one female. Female rabbits can have 1 to 7 litters of 1 to 12 young, called kits, in a year; however, the average number of litters per year is 3–4 and the average number of kits is 5. In the South female eastern cottontails have more litters per year (up to 7) but fewer young per litter. In New England female eastern cottontails have three or four litters per year. The annual productivity of females may be as high as 35 young.

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