Native to North America, the Desert Cottontail lives in various habitats where grasslands, brush, and desert landscapes abound. These herbivorous mammals are known for their ability to withstand harsh desert environments, which makes them particularly interesting to rabbit enthusiasts and animal researchers. The Desert Cottontail isn’t a suitable pet, but they are an interesting animal to learn more about for fun! Here’s what you should know.

Lifespan:2–3 years
Similar Breeds:Brush Rabbit
Suitable for:Desert, arid environments
Temperament:Shy, skittish, frightens easily

The Desert Cottontail sports a compact body and short legs that are capable of engaging in quick getaways when they’ve perceived that a predator is nearby. This animal has a rounded tail that looks like a cotton ball, lending credence to their name. Their round eyes are prominent, and their fur is brown to meld in with natural surroundings. However, they still serve as an important source of food for many predatory animals.

Desert Cottontail Characteristics

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Temperament & Intelligence of the Desert Cottontail

Desert Cottontails tend to be skittish while traversing their habitats. They are most active in the early mornings and late afternoons/evenings, when predators are less likely to be out hunting and when they’ll be less noticeable to those that are lurking. Avoiding activity during the day also helps them conserve their energy and reduce moisture loss. These animals run in a zigzag pattern and can go up to 15 miles an hour!

They’re quite athletic, which helps them avoid predators, get food, and find cover for resting time. When they’re caught completely off guard, they might freeze in place rather than run for cover. It might seem gross to us, but Desert Cottontails also eat their own feces to absorb any nutrients that have been left in it.

These animals tend to live in groups like families and share resources. They are social with one another and seem to like goofing around as they go about their day. They lift their tails to show a large white patch when they want to alert or warn other cottontails in their vicinity. Common predators of the Desert Cottontail include hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, and even snakes. These rabbits tend to stay burrowed when it’s windy outside, as the wind hinders their ability to effectively hear predators before they get too close.

It’s easy to see that this rabbit species is quite smart and understands how to make the most out of their environment. When observed in nature, it’s clear that these animals are aggressive in their quest for food yet timid when dealing with the unknowns.

Desert Cottontail Rabbit
Image Credit: Vincent Pro Photo, Shutterstock

Can These Rabbits Be Keps As Pets?

The Desert Cottontail is not a domestic animal. They live in the wild and that’s where they should stay. They are not suitable to be kept as pets under any circumstances. Fortunately, there are plenty of rabbit species that have been domesticated and that may be a perfect pet for your household. These include the Holland Lop, Fuzzy Lop, Mini Rex, and Netherland Dwarf. These are all rabbits that have similarities to the Desert Cottontail, with the bonus that they can live happily as pets.

Does This Rabbit Get Along With Other Animals?

This rabbit species typically lives with their own kind, though they stick with their groups and establish a territory to live within that they consider their own. These animals are not known to be territorial, aside from the occasional dispute between males—perhaps for mating reasons. When it comes to socializing with other types of animals, the typical Desert Cottontail avoids doing so because it usually entails running from a predator. Divider-rabbit2

Things to Know About the Desert Cottontail

Now that you know the basics, let’s get down to the specifics and look deeper at aspects of a Desert Cottontail’s life, such as what they eat, where they live, how they mate, and what threatens them. We also cover the differences that should be noted between male and female Desert Cottontails.

Food & Diet

These mammals are herbivores, which means they eat plant foods. Most notably, the Desert Cottontail feeds on a variety of grasses that grow in their habitat. They also like to seek out leaves, shrubs, and plants during the spring and summer seasons. They will eat bark and even twigs out of necessity to help round out their diet during the fall and winter seasons.


The Desert Cottontail can thrive in a variety of environments, most notably grasslands and desert environments. They seek out brushy areas where they can easily burrow to sleep and hide from the sun and predators. They will use burrows that other animals have made, and they will scratch depressions out in the ground for burrowing if they can’t find more suitable cover.

Young Desert Cottontail Bunny Rabbit
Image Credit: Charles T. Peden, Shutterstock

Population Threats

While the Desert Cottontail is not considered endangered, this rabbit species does face a whole host of predators that make it tough to live to an older age.

The list of predators that these animals must watch out for is extensive and includes:
  • Coyotes
  • Mountain lions
  • Bobcats
  • Dogs
  • Snakes
  • Weasels
  • Squirrels

Humans are also a threat to the population of Desert Cottontail for a few reasons. First is land clearing. Whenever humans clear land for farming or other purposes, there is a chance that they’re taking away the habitat of many animals, including the Desert Cottontail. Second, human-made fires pose a risk to the Desert Cottontail population.

Mating Habits

Mating seasons are between January and summertime for Desert Cottontails. Males tend to “court” females by chasing them and running around them to get their attention. After mating, the female will dig a shallow hole and line it with grass, fur, and other soft materials to make a nest of sorts. She will give birth to between one and six babies in this nest about 1 month after mating. The babies are born naked and with closed eyes. They’ll leave the nest at around 2 weeks of age, but they will stay by their mother’s side for at least 3 weeks longer.


Male vs. Female

The biggest difference between male and female Desert Cottontails is that the gals are usually larger than the guys. Males tend to be more active and playful, particularly when it’s time to mate. Otherwise, both male and female Desert Cottontails are similar when it comes to temperament, eating habits, and burrowing practices.

3 Little-Known Facts About the Desert Cottontail

1. They Have Color-Changing Fur

The Desert Cottontail’s fur is darker in the summer than in the winter months to help them blend in better with their surroundings, no matter what time of year it is. They also experience slight color changes if their surroundings dramatically change for some reason. This is their natural way of protecting themselves from predators.

Desert Cottontail Rabbit touching human hand
Image Credit: Charles T. Peden, Shutterstock

2. They’re Prolific Reproducers

Desert Cottontails are designed to reproduce often to help replenish the population as rabbits get lost to predators. Females have the capability of producing at least two litters a year, with many producing twice that number. It depends on the specific rabbit and the type of habitat that they live in. The harsher the environment, the harder it is to successfully reproduce and rear babies.

3. They Sometimes Share Burrows With Other Animals

When a Desert Cottontail finds a burrow that another animal like a rodent or reptile creates and moves on from, they will help themselves to that burrow until they are forced to retreat. Sometimes, they will incorporate other animals’ burrows into their own burrowing system to create complex networks for sleeping and hiding.


Final Thoughts

The Desert Cottontail is a delightful species to watch when you can find them in nature. They are likely to scurry away if they catch wind of you, so it’s important to be calm and still when you’re out to observe them. These animals should never be kept as pets, as they are not domesticated and aren’t suitable for captivity. Always admire these beautiful animals from afar.

Featured Image Credit: Kelly Nine, Shutterstock