Black-tailed Jack Rabbit

Lepus californicus melanotis Mearns



Photo courtesy of George Harrison,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Images Library

Description:   The black-tailed jack rabbit, although referred to as a rabbit, is actually classed as a hare because of its long ears and feet, and precocial young. This hare can be distinguished from other Kansas rabbits and hares by: 1) greyish brown upper parts and sides, heavily lined with black (especially in winter pelage), 2) underparts whitish buff to pure white, 3) very long hind legs and ears, and 4) characteristic black hair on the top of its tail which extends as a stripe onto the rump.

Size:   Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 505-602 mm; tail 60-93 mm; hind foot 125-135 mm; ear 105-150 mm; weight 2.4-3.9 kilograms.

Range and Habitat:   The black tailed jack rabbit is found throughout the state, but is more common on the prairies of western Kansas. Open prairie or fields of short cultivated grasses are preferred to brush or fields of tall cultivated crops. Dense stands of trees are avoided.

Reproduction:   Throughout most of Kansas, the breeding period of the black-tailed jack rabbit is from late winter to late summer. After a gestation period of from 41 to 47 days, one to eight (usually four) short-eared young from 152 to 178 mm long are born fully furred with eyes open. They are able to move almost immediately, and because the young are so well-developed at birth, there is no need for an elaborate nest to house them. Birth generally takes place in a grass- and fur-lined concavity placed among the grass or under low shrubs, but can take place even on the bare ground. The female nurses the young for three or four weeks although the weaning process begins at about ten days, and at about one month of age the young become independent. They grow rapidly and in two months are nearly adult size. Both sexes reach sexual maturity in the breeding season following their birth.

Habits:   The black-tailed jack rabbit is essentially a solitary animal which most frequently is seen feeding conspicuously in open fields during late afternoon, evenings and early mornings, or resting in the shade of a fence post or shrub in the middle of the day. It sometimes remains in sheltered concavities on the surface of the ground. When disturbed, the black-tailed jack rabbit escapes with abrupt, rapid acceleration, attaining speeds of up to 65 km per hour as it leaps across the open fields; some leaps are more than three meters. This species alternates its regular running gait by springing upward for 0.9-1.2 meters for a better view of the terrain and the pursuer; this is termed "spy-hopping." If attacked, these hares defend themselves by forcefully kicking with their hind feet, biting, and emitting a shrieking call. They maintain trails between feeding and resting areas.

Food:   Food of the black-tailed jack rabbit consists of grasses, herbage, and any available green vegetation. In winter more dry vegetation is consumed, including cacti, shrubs, and the bark of trees. Most of their water is obtained from plants.

Remarks:   Eagles, hawks, owls, coyotes, foxes, and bobcats are the principal predators of the black-tailed jack rabbit. Diseases can reduce a high population to just a few individuals in the course of a month or two. Periodic population fluctuations in this hare are common. The reduction of the native prairie by agriculture has probably caused the greatest decrease in numbers of the black-tailed jack rabbit in Kansas. They do not adapt well to the intense tillage required to produce milo, soybeans, wheat or other grain crops.

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