Date of Award
Master of Science
Wildlife and Fisheries Science
Michael R. Pelton
R.W. Dimmick, B.L. Dearden, J.L. Byford
A total of 117 cottontail rabbits were captured during the study. Sex ratios appeared to be approximately 50:50. Weight of adult female cottontails averaged 92-94 g heavier than males.
Population density on the southeastern portion of the study area was estimated at 5.67 rabbits per ha (2.15 rabbits/a). The population was thought to be much less dense in the northwestern portion of the study area, apparently causing lower hunter success on the north western portion of the study area than on the south eastern portion.
Winter home range sizes for telemetered cotton tails averaged 2.8 ha (6.9 a) for males, and 2.2 ha (5.8 a) for females. Home range sizes determined from retrap and reobservation data for ear-tagged rabbits averaged 5.6 ha (14.6 a) for males and 1.2 ha (3.2 a) for females. Telemetric determination of home range is considered more accurate than determination by retrap and reobservation.
Six home range departures were observed during the study. Two of these departures were attributed to the location of breeding females by male cottontails. Reasons for the remaining four home range departures are unknown.
Cottontails were found to begin crepuscular activities after sunset (December through February) regardless of day length. A literature review revealed that cottontails begin crepuscular activities prior to sunset during the summer months and subsequent to sunset during the winter, thus contributing to a reduction in rabbit sightings between summer and winter by members of the public.
Destruction of preferred diurnal resting cover resulted in the relocation of home ranges by four cottontails. Cover destruction is believed to be a major factor causing relocation of cottontail home ranges and the formation of winter concentrations of cottontails.
Cottontails were found to prefer smaller areas within their existing home ranges for diurnal cover. The area within each rabbit's home range in which the rabbit was found in 80 percent or more of the diurnal readings was designated as the diurnal cover preference range (DCPR) of the rabbit. Destruction of DCPR cover appears to stimulate relocation of home range.
Five winter concentrations of cottontails were located during the study. Three radio-collared cotton tails relocated in areas of cottontail concentration. The location of concentrations by hunters should increase hunter success since 75 percent of the rabbits flushed were from the areas of concentration.
Flushability of cottontails decreased as cover became harder for hunters and dogs to penetrate. The speed and thoroughness with which hunters examined cover also influenced the number of rabbits flushed; the faster-paced hunts with superficial examination of cover resulted in fewer rabbit flushes than did slower-paced hunts with a more thorough examination of cover. Use of trained hunting dogs increased flushing success.
Apparent breeding synchrony was observed in female cottontails in late January and early February after a sudden rise in mean daily temperature. Chi-square 2x2 test for independence indicates that female cottontails in estrous are more easily trapped than males. Parasites observed on cottontails include ticks (Haemaphysalis leporispalustris and Ixodes dentatus), fleas (Cediopsylla simplex), bot warbles (Cuterebra sp.), and an unidentified species of liver fluke. Fibromatosis was observed in 16 percent of rabbits captured in October and November, and in 9 percent of rabbits captured in January and February.
Anderson, Bruce F., "Some aspects of the movement ecology and susceptibility to hunting of the cottontail rabbit (sylvilagus Floridanus) in Tennessee. " Master's Thesis, University of Tennessee, 1975.