Appalachian Cottontail (Sylvilagus obscurus)

Appalachian Cottontail (Sylvilagus obscurus)

Appalachian cottontail

Appalachian cottontail./Will Cook

General: The Appalachian cottontail was recognized as a separate species from the closely related New England cottontail in 1992. The Appalachian cottontail has a fragmented range extending from Pennsylvania south through the Appalachian Mountains to northern Georgia and Alabama. Other names for this rare rabbit include Allegheny cottontail, woods rabbit, and mountain cottontail. Appalachian cottontails live in forested and mountain heath habitats in mountainous areas. They use young, regenerating vegetation, including shrubs, tree shoots, and saplings. Blackberry, highbush blueberry, greenbriar, and mountain laurel offer good cover. Appalachian cottontails seem to prefer habitat that has dense but upright stem growth, allowing them to move about. They eat greenery and fruits in summer, and bark, shoots, and twigs in winter. A prey species, they rely on overhead cover as a shield against hawks and owls, and thick lower vegetation to escape coyotes, foxes, and bobcats.

Status: These rabbits are uncommon and little-studied throughout their range. Conservationists believe their numbers have been falling because of habitat fragmentation and loss caused by humans' developments, combined with areas of young forest maturing into older forest that has less of the thick ground cover that offers food and hiding places for rabbits. Kentucky, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia listed the Appalachian cottontail as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need as of 2015.

How to Help Appalachian Cottontails: To increase the amount of young, regrowing vegetation in mature forests, conservationists recommend moderate tree harvests instead of large clearcuts, because it takes time for enough vegetation to grow back before Appalachian cottontails can use the habitat. Large clearcuts can also harm local Appalachian cottontail populations if eastern cottontails (a separate and much more common species of rabbit) are present, because the latter could more quickly establish populations in the new habitat and outcompete and exclude Appalachian cottontails.
Both public and private landowners can make young forest habitat. The Young Forest Guide explains how.

Click on the map at left to see a larger image.

Visit a habitat demonstration area within the Appalachian cottontail's range to increase your chances of seeing this rabbit, as well as other wildlife that need young forest in mountainous settings.