A careless bunny out in the snow

Sunday, February 19, 2012

This wild rabbit is called an eastern cottontail. The Western Hemisphere is home to several species of rabbits. The eastern cottontail is one of the most common, and Southeast Missouri is within its range.

The sighting of an eastern cottontail out playing on snow-covered ground during daylight hours is a bit uncommon.

The snowshoe hare of Canada and Alaska turns white during winter when snow covers the ground for many long months. The eastern cottontail does not change its color. Because it is a brown rabbit, it is easy to see against a snowy background. This makes it much more vulnerable to attack when snow is down. Eastern cottontails regularly employ a defensive maneuver called "freezing" (sitting perfectly still while danger is near). Their color blends in with dead vegetation and this ploy serves them well during most of the year. But if a careless eastern cottontail "freezes" in the snow during daytime it is no defense against a hungry hawk, coyote, bobcat or fox.

Eastern cottontails are excellent zigzag runners. I enjoyed watching this one suddenly dart haphazardly in little circles for no apparent reason. Into the underbrush he would go only to reappear in another place and repeat his antics. I realized that he was doing this because he anticipated an unannounced attack from somewhere. He acted as though he knew the snow made him less safe.

Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at semissourian.com to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by him at the Painted Wren Gallery.

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