Despite their name, the colorfully named Black-Tailed Jackrabbit isn’t a rabbit at all—they’re hares! Hares differ a bit from rabbits, with the two biggest differences being born with fur and with a markedly larger size than bunnies. The Black-Tailed Jackrabbit was previously (and more accurately) named a desert hare, but American settlers thought their ears made them look like donkeys, hence the “jack” in their new name. Ubiquitous across most of North America, these jackrabbits are a vital piece of the ecosystem that many people don’t appreciate enough. This breed should never be domesticated because they’re wild animals.

Weight:3–9 pounds
Lifespan:1–4 years
Similar Breeds:Antelope Jackrabbit, Belgian Hare, White-Tailed Jackrabbit
Suitable for:Desert environments
Temperament:Skeptical, flighty, timid, energetic

Still technically named the Common Desert Hare, the Black-Tailed Jackrabbit is a textbook example of a prey herbivore animal. They feast on grass, wood, cactus, and nearly any greenery in their habitat. What makes this species so special is their extremely powerful legs. The Black-Tailed Jackrabbit can reach up to 40 mph or more in short bursts! That makes them hard to observe in their natural habitat as well, combined with their highly skittish persona.

Black-Tailed Jackrabbits Characteristics

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Do Black-Tailed Jackrabbits Make Good Pets?

black tailed jackrabbit
Image Credit: NPS, Pixabay

No, jackrabbits make poor pets in most cases because they’re wild animals. They might resemble domesticated rabbits but are simply too unpredictable to be kept as pets. They would feel threatened more easily than a domesticated rabbit would and could bite or scratch at you in an attempt to escape. Sadly, to see a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit in action yourself, you’ll have to track one down in the wilderness or check one out in captivity.


What to Know About the Black-Tailed Jackrabbit

Behavior & Personality

Like many wild hares, the Black-Tailed Jackrabbit has a shy prey animal personality. They shy away from prey animals at all costs, preferring to forage and spend time with their families. Like other hares, they’re highly social creatures with close attachments to their families. Jackrabbits find safety in numbers, and large groups of them together increase their odds of locating multiple reliable food and water sources.

To outside observers, the Black-Tailed Jackrabbit is a very flighty critter that avoids the limelight, but not always. Occasionally, some individual rabbits are more friendly or inquisitive than others and may even approach well-intentioned, friendly humans. These more adventurous jackrabbits are very rare and definitely the exception rather than the rule, so beware of approaching them in the wild.

Food & Diet

Black-tailed Jackrabbits are herbivores that forage on nearly any plants in their habitat. This might be grass in more temperate climates, or cactus and shrubs in desert-type environments. Like most rabbits and hares, the Black-tailed Jackrabbit prefers to hide during the hot days and come out in the cooler afternoons. They’ll stay out all night in search of food, if necessary.

Role in the Ecosystem

Along with other rabbits and hares, Black-Tailed Jackrabbits are an essential part of their ecosystem. Predator populations directly depend on the presence of nearby hare populations, especially coyotes and some species of hawks. Rabbits dying of disease or migrating, which is unusual, can dramatically impact predator populations within an ecosystem. Low carnivore populations are generally bad because that leaves few natural predators to control prey animals, and larger carnivores take more time to breed than hares.

Other than as food sources, these hares play another crucial role: spreading seed. They help to spread plants by feasting on plants, which shed their seeds. Depending on the plant, the rabbit can spread the seeds into dirt, carry them on their fur while they travel, or otherwise scatter them around the land.

Natural Habitat

Unlike the house rabbits we may own at home, the Black-Tailed Jackrabbit is a wild species adapted to survive in harsh desert environments such as Mexico, the American Southwest, and more traditional grasslands and forests like those extending into the US Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and some warmer regions of Canada.

Unlike some bunnies, Black-Tailed Jackrabbits don’t live in burrows and prefer to spend their time out in the open. You might think that exposes them to predators, but living out in the open has several notable advantages: they can see predators from a long way away, warn each other, and use their talented legs to speed away.

With that said, they’ve been known to rest in shallowly dug trenches or underneath bushes to help stay comfortable in extremely hot or cold weather. Shrubbery offers some camouflage without impeding their movement like a fully dug-out den would.

black tailed jackrabbit
Image Credit: Natural History Library, Pixabay

Natural Predators

It’s the circle of life, and the Black-Tailed Jackrabbit has an important role in it as the primary food source of numerous predatory carnivores across North America. For some examples of what natural predators rely on this jackrabbit for sustenance, check out a quick informational list below.

Black-Tailed Jackrabbit Predators:

  • Eagles
  • Coyotes
  • Foxes
  • Bobcats
  • Badgers
  • Hawks
  • Weasels

Exercise & Sleeping Needs

Black-Tailed Jackrabbits are crepuscular animals, meaning they’re most active during the dawn and evening twilight hours. Foraging at these times means predators don’t have as much light to see the rabbits as they hop and run about in search of food, but predators are also less active in general at these times.

Physical Appearance

Black-Tailed Jackrabbits are some of the largest North American hares, reaching up to 2 feet tall. They have a similar appearance to many other hares but with remarkably long front and back legs. Their fur is generally a dark brown or gray salt-and-pepper color, with a signature black stripe across the back and onto the tail.


In the wild, most Black-Tailed Jackrabbits live between just 2 to 5 years, but that number isn’t higher due to heavy predation. In captivity, they’re known to live 8 to 10 years, with some long-lived individuals reaching the ripe old age of 15.

black tailed jack rabbit face
Image Credit: PublicDomainImages, Pixabay

Health Conditions

Like any other animal, the Black-Tailed Jackrabbit is vulnerable to its share of specific health conditions. These range from minor to life-threatening and contagious, but you can take a look at the most common ones down below.

Black-Tailed Jackrabbit Diseases:

  • Tularemia: Also called rabbit fever, this widespread rabbit infection can plague and kill entire populations. Signs include fatigue, ulcers, sores, and erratic movement.
  • Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease: Known as RHD, this fatal condition affects hares and rabbits of all types and is extremely contagious.
  • Lyme Disease: This extremely unpleasant and potentially fatal disease can be transmitted to humans or pets via ticks living on jackrabbits.

Male vs Female

The only discernible physical difference between male and female Black-Tailed Jackrabbits is that males tend to grow much larger than females, who tend to stay at a modest size even at maturity. Males are also more likely to engage in territorial behavior like marking and fighting.


3 Little-Known Facts About Black-Tailed Jackrabbits

1. Baby Black-Tailed Jackrabbits Are Born With Fur

Unlike baby rabbits that are born without fur, Black-Tailed Jackrabbits are born with their eyes open and with their full coat of fur. That helps to keep them warm during their early vulnerable lives as well as provide some much-needed camouflage from predators.

2. Black-Tailed Jackrabbits Are Born Mobile

It’s true! Black-Tailed Jackrabbits are able to hop around within just hours of being born, which is a literal lifesaver if a predator happens to come across them in the open spaces they prefer to live in. Even from the tender young age of a day or two, they can see and smell predators, which helps them stand a better chance of surviving attacks.

3. Black-Tailed Jackrabbits Are Hands-Off Mothers

Rabbits are known as doting mothers, but Black-Tailed Jackrabbits aren’t as attached. They usually leave their young shortly after giving birth, returning only to feed for short intervals. By staying away from their young at this point, they can spend more time replenishing their nutrients by foraging as well as avoid leading predators back to their babies.


Final Thoughts

The Black-Tailed Jackrabbit is one of the biggest, fastest, and most widespread critters you can see yourself in the wilds across Mexico, the US, and Canada. Their behavior and appearance differ from a house bunny, but these speedy herbivores are essential for keeping countless ecosystems running smoothly. Sadly, they make poor house pets, but that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate their natural beauty and significance to the environments they dwell in.

Interested in learning about more rabbit breeds? Check out: 

Featured Image Credit: PublicDomainImages, Pixabay