In captivity, pet rabbits don’t really need to do anything to attract a mate. That work is mostly done by default when a pair cohabit, or by the breeder, who selects which pairs to mate according to genetics and desired breed characteristics. In the wild, however, it’s a different story. Wild rabbits must go to greater lengths to woo potential mates.
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit
The most common species of wild rabbit in North America is Sylvilagus floridanus, more commonly known as the Eastern cottontail, according to Pennsylvania State University. Cottontails are relatively small rabbits, typically weighing 2 to 3 pounds and about 15 to 18 inches in length. Their fur ranges in color from light brown to dark gray, and they hold their long ears erect. This rabbit’s short, white, fluffy tail gives this species its common name.
Cottontail Breeding Season
Breeding season for cottontails begins each year in February or March and continues until September. Gestation lasts about 30 days, allowing the rabbits ample time to produce four or five litters a season. Litter size ranges from three to eight baby rabbits or kits, averaging four or five.
The Mating Dance
Before a litter's conceived, adult rabbits go through an interesting mating ritual in order to attract and select a mate. A male and a female, also known as a buck and a doe, perform a sort of dance in which the buck chases the doe until she stops, faces the buck and boxes him with her front paws. This goes on until one of the pair leaps straight into the air. The second rabbit also leaps into the air, completing the ritual and signalling that mating can now take place.
Female Estrous Cycle
With many mammals, mating times are determined by the female’s estrous cycle or ovulation cycle, when she is considered to be in heat. Rabbit does are somewhat unusual in their ovulation: It doesn’t occur until after they have mated. For this reason, sexually mature female rabbits are considered to basically be permanently in estrus and ready to mate.
- DebMark Rabbit Education Resource: Breeding Rabbits
- Pennsylvania State University: Virtual Nature Trail
- State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry: Eastern Cottontail
- New Hampshire Public Television: Nature Works: Eastern Cottontail
- Animal Diversity Web: Sylvilagus Floridanus
- FAO.org: The Rabbit - Husbandry, Health and Production: Chapter 3 Reproduction
Jean Marie Bauhaus has been writing about a wide range of topics since 2000. Her articles have appeared on a number of popular websites, and she is also the author of two urban fantasy novels. She has a Bachelor of Science in social science from Rogers State University.