Bunny is derived from the old or Middle English root word “bun” and describes a rabbit, a young one in particular. Rabbits are small furry mammals that belong to the order Lagomorpha. If you happen upon a rabbit in the wilderness of Appalachia, it will definitely have come from the Leporidae family, and will usually be one of three different species of cottontails that inhabit the eastern United States.
Eastern Cottontails Silvilagus floridanus are the most abundant rabbit found here. Appalachian Cottontail Sylvilagus obscurus and New England Cottontail Sylvilagus transitionalis are similar in appearance to the Eastern, but each has differences in coloration unique to their species. Debate exists whether the latter two species should be classified as one species or two.
If you live in suburban areas and small towns and see a rabbit or two or three, usually these will be Eastern Cottontails. They prefer bushy undergrowth with mixed habitats. Outside suburbia, a little bit of analysis may be needed to determine which species is present. Physical differences can be too subtle for the average observer. The Appalachian and New England Cottontails are found more in wooded, mountainous areas with higher elevations but Easterns may live there as well.
All three cottontail species found in Appalachia have brown fur and fairly long ears that give them excellent hearing ability. Full grown rabbits normally weigh several pounds. Rabbits hop because their hind legs grow longer than the front legs. Most memorable about these animals is their cottontail, a white ball of fur.
It’s too late to hunt fresh rabbit for your Easter dinner; regular hunting season ended in February.
If you happen to see the Easter Bunny while out enjoying nature, please let him or her know to be very careful. Four leaf clovers may be popular lucky charms, but so too is a rabbit’s foot.
May you have a Joyous Easter.