Our Large Lagomorph

June 20, 2022

Traveling down one of our narrow dirt roads on the Bypass Mitigation Lands may sometimes be interrupted by the crazy antics of the big, long-eared Black-tailed Jack Rabbit, Lepus californicus. It is fascinating to watch them as they zigzag across the road, stopping and looking intently at the electric UTV in the road. The jack rabbit I was waiting for today seemed to prefer looking at me out of one side of its head, so it was turned sideways and looking at me with one eye. This gave the vulnerable mammal the ability to keep an eye on the other side while being in a ready running position. The light coming through its long and large ears was captivating with its pink and red glow.

The name Jack Rabbit came from the settlers who named the long-eared hare the “Jackass Rabbit.” This later was shortened to Jack Rabbit. What is the difference between a hare and a rabbit? Jack Rabbits are true hares. They are longer and leaner than rabbits and their young, called leverets, are born fully furred and open-eyed. Leverets are only cared for and nursed by their mother for two to three days before being left on their own. Brush Rabbit juveniles on the other hand spend fourteen to twenty-one days in the nest being nursed at night before they venture far from the nest. Since Brush Rabbits are born furless and blind this is an important growth and transition time for them.

Jack Rabbits can weigh up to seven pounds and grow to twenty-one inches long. Their long ears can measure ten to thirteen centimeters long and are powerful listening tools. They are a grayish-brown color with the dorsal part of their tail being black. A Jack Rabbit can jump thirty feet and can run thirty to thirty-five miles per hour, sometimes zigzagging back and forth across the landscape.

They are considered an herbivore or folivore, eating grasses and herbaceous matter, but I have also seen them nibbling on twigs and bark. The USDA says that fifteen Jack Rabbits can eat the same amount as one large grazing cow in one day. A Jack Rabbit does not require much water and are considered “drought tolerant.”

Due to the removal of large predators such as coyotes, bobcats, and eagles, their population has boomed in the drier plains regions of the US. One study showed that the density of Jack Rabbits was 470 hares per square kilometer. At this level they become crop pests and can cause major damage to farmers.

This time of the year I see a few Jack Rabbits on the mitigation lands, but I know there are many more I am not seeing. They are not as common here as in some areas of the United States such as Nevada or Texas, where there is ample habitat and a more targeted killing of Coyotes and Bobcats. There might be enough Coyotes and Bobcats to keep them in check in the valley, plus they are hunted by predators from above like Golden Eagles and Red-tailed Hawks. Once I saw a Red-tailed Hawk with a long leg in its talons. Upon closer inspection it turned out to be a Jack Rabbit leg. No wonder why Jack Rabbits are on alert all the time!