Wednesday, June 22, 2016
For whatever reason, the cottontail population seems to be flourishing this year. On last weekend's trip to Muskingum County, I must have seen nearly two dozen, mostly kits. I've also seen lots elsewhere, and have heard others comment on the abundance of rabbits in other areas of Ohio.
Eastern Cottontails, cute as they are, are an essential ingredient in the predatorial web. They are important fare for foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and larger owls, especially the Great Horned Owl. I would imagine all of these carnivores are enjoying lots of rabbit steak this summer. And that's a good thing, lest we be overrun with rabbits. Female cottontails, on average, have three or four litters a year, each of about five kits. That's 15-20 rabbits spawned per female in a year. Somewhere between 10-25% of those new does will raise their own litters within two or three months - most wait until the following spring. Take all of the predators out of the equation, and say a 15-acre piece of rabbit heaven supported 20 sexually mature does. Each raises 15 kits in a year (some especially fertile females can produce 35 annually!) - 300 new rabbits. Say 15 of those 300 are females that breed in their first summer, and they collectively spawn another 75 kits. In short order the bunny Eden is overrun with 375 new rabbits. And these numbers are probably conservative.
I'll repeat, good thing for predators.