Curiosity may surprise you in the spring months as you watch cute little Mexican cottontail hop around the yard. Since they are so intriguing, it’s natural to wonder if you can pet this wild bunny. After all, you can have your own Peter Cottontail, right?
We’re not trying to burst your bubble, but Mexican cottontails don’t make the best pets. For the sake and protection of the animals, they need to be in the wild with their rabbit families. If you find an injured wild rabbit or litter, we can discuss your options for caring for the rabbits in those special circumstances.
Quick Facts About the Mexican Cottontail
|Species name:||sylvilagus cunicularius|
|Color Format:||brown, red, white|
|Life span:||15 months|
Mexican Cottontail Overview
Mexican cottontails, as their name suggests, encompass the entire country of Mexico. You can find them in temperate forests, subtropical deserts and grasslands—and they can also appear in rural backyards.
Mexican cottontails benefit the environment by becoming a food source for many predators. Although this is a sad fact, most wild cottontails do not live more than a total of 2 years.
Humans have tried to domesticate many varieties of cottontails, including their eastern cousins. However, these rabbits are so hunting-minded that they cannot trust humans at all.
Mexican cottontails in captivity will have a high level of stress and will continually try to escape. This could result in injury to the animal, so it is best to leave rehabilitation to a professional.
How much does a Mexican cottontail cost?
Mexican Cottontails are not available for sale. They are wild animals that do not do well in domesticated situations. They suffer from excessive hunting, so they will always see you as a predator.
If you stumble in front of a baby rabbit, don’t intervene—as mom likely has. If you have verified that it is an abandoned litter or know that the mother is dead, contact Wildlife Rescue for further guidance.
distinctive behavior and temperament
The Mexican cottontail has a natural burrowing behavior. They dig underground hides that are about 9 inches long. These bills help protect them from predators. When they have litter they will also dig and cover.
You can see Mexican cottontails searching and foraging for food. They usually come out during daylight hours to avoid many nocturnal predators lurking about.
Appearance and varieties
The Mexican cottontail is the largest of all their cottontail cousins. They have a white underbelly with a gray to red overcoat. Their fur is somewhat disheveled and rough – not as silky or smooth as in the northern regions.
The Mexican cottontail has a muscular, lean build with powerful hindquarters. Their ears are small and erect. They have large, dark eyes with narrow skulls. Their tail is bushy and rough, looking like a real cotton ball—hence the name.
As adults, they reach about 5.5 pounds.
How to Care for a Mexican Cottontail
Mexican cottontails can thrive in many climates, including areas with moderate cultivation. You can see them snacking on the foliage in your backyard. They prefer areas where food is plentiful, such as forests and grasslands.
Sadly, most Mexican cottontails only have a lifespan of 15 months in the wild. They are the primary food source for many native predators in their areas of habitat. This is a natural cycle of life, and must be maintained.Natural predators include:
- red Fox
- red-tailed falcon
- long tail mongoose
Throughout history there have been many attempts to tame these prey animals. However, due to their high stress levels in captivity, this simply does not work. If you ever encounter Mexican cottontails, release them into the wild or contact a professional for care options.
Do Mexican Cottontails Get Along With Other Pets?
Mexican cottontails are highly fearful of other creatures, which is especially true if they are large. Mexican cottontails have extremely high hunting instincts, which can lead to a heart attack if they are frightened enough.
This means you can never have a Mexican cottontail around the family dog or cat. You could never put them close to small children or other frantic creatures. Cottontails have a very exaggerated startle response to external stimuli.
Pet dogs or cats can also threaten Mexican cottontails, as they trigger prey drives in other animals. If you see some cottontails, be sure to keep your pet away from them until you leave the yard.
What to feed your Mexican cottontail?
Mexican cottontails roam the Mexican plains for food. These rabbits are herbivores, meaning they only snack on plant matter.In summer, they focus on grasses and shrubs. Some favorites include:
- bottlebrush squirrel
- cheatgrass brom
- duba grass
- Indian Ricegrass
When food is scarce in the winter months, they may rely on bark or branches for sustenance.
Keeping Your Mexican Cottontail Healthy
Mexican cottontail rabbits are generally healthy. However, they can get certain diseases during their lifetime, including the incredibly deadly hemorrhagic virus. Scientists are working diligently for a vaccine to slow or stop the spread of this real threat.
Mexican cottontails typically breed in the spring and summer months—March through October. Mothers usually build a safe nest for their babies before giving birth. Females reach sexual maturity by five months.
The gestation period for the Mexican cottontail is about 30 days. Mothers may have up to four litters per year, producing eight rabbits at a time. Babies are born childless and blind, completely dependent on their mother.
Babies begin to leave the nest before three weeks of age, and they are completely independent by five weeks. Since they no longer need their mothers at this stage, they will hope to go into the unknown to defend themselves.
Are Mexican Cottontails Right for You?
Even though the Mexican cottontail may be an attractive exotic pet to some people, domestication is not an option for these rabbits. If you come across one, it’s best to leave it alone and let it do its job. They will never be a cuddly pet that you would find at any pet store.
Intervening can cause a lot more stress than the rabbit is able to handle. If you have found a Mexican cottontail in distress, contact your local wildlife rescue for help. They will know how to assist the animal before it can be safely returned to its natural environment.