By Ana Weidenfeld
Take a stroll into our local meadowlands, prairies or cultivated lands to catch sight of the Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus). Despite its misleading name, this animal is not really a rabbit at all. Rather, it’s a hare, distinguished by the fact that it is born with fur and open eyes. This hare has a wide range in the United State– from Washington State to California, and extending east to Nebraska, West Missouri and Texas. It’s considered an introduced species in New Jersey and Kentucky.
The black-tailed jackrabbit has a grayish to sandy beige back, dotted with specks of black. Its belly and chest are bright white. The tail, as noted in the common name, has a black stripe with a white border. Its ears are very long and brown with black tips. This jack has large hind feet as well.
When alarmed, the black-tailed jackrabbit uses these large feet to hop and can reach speeds of 35 mph over short distances. For longer runs it travels at more modest speeds and leaps high into the air on every fourth or fifth hop to monitor its surroundings. The hare also flashes its white tail at predators, perhaps in an effort to startle or confuse the pursuer. At times this jack is known to stomp its hind feet in order to alert other jacks of danger. If necessary the animal can also swim. Because the black-tailed jackrabbit is a prime meal for many consumers in the food chain, such as large birds of prey, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and badgers, it is important that this species has multiple ways to protect itself.
When not being chased, this hare spends the early part of the day lounging under shrubs or in thick vegetation, becoming more active in the late afternoon. The black-tailed jackrabbit is relatively social and eats in small groups, foraging well into the night hours. In the summer, this jack eats alfalfa and other plant life and during the winter months consumes woody and dry vegetation. In dry conditions the black-tailed jackrabbit can also eat cactus and sagebrush. It is probable that 130 jacks can eat as much rangeland vegetation as seven hungry sheep.
The breeding season for the black-tailed jack extends throughout the year, and births can be more frequent in areas with temperate weather. Mothers usually do not provide nests for their young and tend to nurse at night in order to reduce losses to predation. The young can take care of themselves in less than a month and full maturity is reached in seven months.
The black-tailed jackrabbit is a keen animal, keeping its eyes and ears alert at all times. Though this species enjoys a good nap in the warm afternoon hours, it is always ready for danger and its ability to look so cute and yet be so tough makes the black-tailed jackrabbit easy to admire and adore.
Photo credits (from top): International Hunter Education Association, Henry Doorly Zoo, www.copyright-free-images.com.