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Lifespan of the Desert Cottontail

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The desert cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii) is a mid-sized, grayish-brown rabbit from the southwestern region of North America. These desert inhabitants tend to lead relatively short lives in the wild. It's uncommon for desert cottontails -- also commonly referred to as Audubon's cottontails -- to venture far from the place of their birth.

Background Information

Desert cottontails usually grow to lengths of around 16 inches. Females generally outweigh the males, however -- the girls typically weigh roughly 35 ounces, with the average being about 30 ounces for boys. These large-eyed mammals are mostly drawn to dry desert settings, occasionally residing in woodland, scrubland, creosote bush, sagebrush and grassland environments. Desert cottontails are usually their busiest at night and at the start of the morning.


Captive desert cottontails usually outlive those in the wild. The average life expectancy for these rabbits in captivity is 7.8 years, according to Animal Diversity Web of the University of Michigan. Their cousins in the wild usually survive for significantly shorter periods of time -- somewhere between 1 and 3 years, indicates the Nevada Department of Wildlife. Throughout their full lives, they generally perform most of their duties and activities in the same basic area, whether it's reproduction, caring for their youngsters, sleeping or eating.

Habitat Destruction

Members of the species are common and their numbers are consistent and strong, notes the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species' 2008 evaluation. Despite that, they are not immune to destruction of their natural habitat, which can contribute to decreased lifespans in select individuals. Some of the habitat problems that desert cottontails routinely face are deforestation and fires. Outside of strictly habitat dilemmas, they also are occasionally the targets of "sport hunting" activities.


Humans occasionally prey on desert cottontails, as do various animal species -- another factor that can drastically affect the lifespans and well-being of these creatures. Some prominent predator risks to these cottontails are bullsnakes, coyotes, eagles, hawks, owls, mountain lions, rattlesnakes and bobcats. Their primary defense entails running swiftly away and hiding inside snug underground openings -- ones that are far too tiny for their larger pursuers. Desert cottontails eat herbivorous diets, so other animals have no cause to fear them. They mostly feed on grass, but also enjoy other green sustenance such as twigs, tree bark, foliage, cacti, mesquite, forbs, nuts, fruits, shrubs and seeds.