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Friday, November 25, 2011

Species Spotlight #13: Desert Cottontail

Like I’ve mentioned several times before, the most common mammal in North Carolina is our omnipresent Eastern Gray Squirrel, and in San Diego they’ve got an equivalent – last week’s California Ground Squirrel. But our second most common mammal is the fairly ubiquitous Eastern Cottontail, a medium-sized but incredibly skittish rabbit that can be found foraging on grasses in parks, gardens, and suburban lawns. Not to be outdone, San Diego has their own version, a rabbit that in the absence of greenery instead lives in brushy, dry, and dusty areas throughout California. I present to you the Desert Cottontail.

Don’t be fooled by its moniker – the Desert Cottontail is just as likely to be found in suburbs as the Eastern Cottontail, only instead of living off of manicured lawns and hiding under dense foliage, it thrives in the canyons that run between neighborhoods, blending in surprisingly well with its drab surroundings. When I first encountered these large rabbits, I found myself struck by how colorful they were compared to their Eastern relatives. Where our cottontails are uniformly brown all over, the Desert Cottontail sports a pelt of intricate tans and grays, punctuated by a gaudy (for a rabbit) nape that shines bright rufous in the sun. Quite the departure from what I’m used to!

It's either deal with us humans or jump in the river. I think he's chosen wisely.

While I’d seen these guys all around during my early expeditions in San Diego, James and I ran into this guy on a small bike trail that runs along the San Diego River towards the ocean (but to be fair, pretty much everything in San Diego runs towards the ocean). As odd as it seems, we found this specialized desert dweller under a highway overpass where the only shelter came from the sparse shrubbery lining a concrete barrier. No way an Eastern Cottontail would expose himself to such conditions, and yet here in residential San Diego, this Desert Cottontail found himself right at home.

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