Friday, January 8, 2010

White rabbits

I glimpsed out the window this afternoon just in time to see a white ball of fur hop out of the nursery onto the open road and down to Will's Marsh. It was rather large, and fully white except for black tips on top of its tall ears. A white rabbit!?! I questioned my sanity, as I thought we only had cottontail rabbits here, and true rabbits do not turn white in the winter.
After double-checking my vision, and assuring myself I was seeing a white rabbit-like critter, I did some research. I visited the MT Fish Wildlife, and Parks Natural Heritage page and linked to the Montana Field Guide. There I discovered that this long-legged, long-eared animal was most likely the white-tailed jackrabbit, Lepus townsendii. You can check out the FWP page by clicking here. Jackrabbits are actually hares, not rabbits. All hares are in the genus Lepus. They are closely related to rabbits (both are in the family Leporidae), but there are some critical differences. As I mentioned above, rabbits don't change colors with the seasons, while most hares do (another Montana hare is the Snowshoe hare, Lepus americanus). Hares are usually larger than rabbits, have longer ears, and black markings on their fur. Hares are not born underground in a burrow, rather they are born in a shallow nest of grass known as a form. Because they are born above-ground with less protection than in a burrow, they are born with eyes open and bearing fur, and soon after birth can fend for themselves. Rabbits, which are born underground, are born blind, hairless, and relatively helpless. To learn more about the Mountain Cottontail Rabbit, our other leporid at the ACEC, please click here.
The white-tailed jackrabbit was a lucky sighting for me, the highlight of my day! I learned from the Montana Field Guide that they usually inhabit sage-grasslands, but move to wooded and riparian (riverside) areas during rough winters. We have some grasslands and fields nearby, and are adjacent to the heavily wooded riparian ecological community. Perhaps this hare made its way here following our recent days of sub-zero temperatures and deep snow. Hopefully she, or he, decides to stay!


  1. Did you feel a little like Alice, Heather? Very cool observation and I liked the additional research info.

  2. Nice photo of the hare. I would have assumed it was a hybrid-feral rabbit like the ones off of the 27th street exit, but am glad to hear it's a native. Thanks for the extra information!