Eastern Cottontails

From December 2016 to December 2017, we set out to understand how animals move in Statesville, NC. Motion-activated trail cameras were deployed throughout a section of the city’s greenway section. The camera traps were randomly placed in a grid location and then rotated every two weeks.

Thousands of pictures later, we discovered some interesting things about our critters.

This first post will highlight our Eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus. These rabbits are a successful group for many reasons. They spend large periods of time grooming and foraging year-around because they don’t hibernate. They are problematic for predators because of their great speed, quick moves, and extreme agility. Above all else, two characteristics stand out.

  1. High reproductive rate– Cottontails have a gestation period of twenty-eight days. Depending on their location, breeding starts in late January and could run through late August. It is possible that one female could produce more than thirty offspring per year.
  2. Coprophagy lifestyle- Eastern cottontails eat plants that are made up of cellulose, or fiber. Cellulose, though, is difficult to digest. Rabbits have no microbes to break down the cellulose. They also do not have multi-chambered guts like cows. So, rabbits digest their food twice to aid the breakdown of cellulose. To do this, things get a little weird. Their first round of feces typically is greenish is color. The rabbit will usually eat this right out of their anus and the food will travel through the digestive tract for round two.

Below, you can see when rabbits were most active in our study.

Rabbits were:

  • Present at 17 trap stations
  • Found in 287 total photos (83 individual observations)
  • Nocturnal 86.75% of the time

One of the most informative figures that we designed is shown below. In this particular illustration, we compared rabbit activity with everybody’s favorite predator, the coyote. The first figure (Camera Locations) shows where rabbits were spotted, where coyotes were spotted and where they overlapped. As you can see, rabbits overlapped a great deal with coyotes in space. The graph shows how these two species overlap in time. They overlap 78% of the time. This confirms what some of our pictures already were telling us. Coyotes in Statesville eat a lot of rabbits. However, because of a high reproductive rate, rabbits are doing just fine.






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