Black-Tailed Jackrabbit Facts

Scientific Name: Lepus californicus

Black-tailed jackrabbit
The black-tailed jackrabbit has a black tail and black-tipped ears.

Thomas Janisch / Getty Images

The black-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) gets its name for its black tail and long ears, which originally earned it the name "jackass rabbit." Despite its name, the black-tailed jackrabbit is actually a hare and not a rabbit. Hares are long-eared, powerful sprinters that are born with fur and open eyes, while rabbits have shorter ears and legs and are born blind and hairless.

Fast Facts: Black-Tailed Jackrabbit

  • Scientific Name: Lepus californicus
  • Common Names: Black-tailed jackrabbit, American desert hare
  • Basic Animal Group: Mammal
  • Size: 18-25 inches
  • Weight: 2.8-6.8 pounds
  • Lifespan: 5-6 years
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Habitat: North America
  • Population: Decreasing
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Description

The black-tailed jackrabbit is the third largest hare in North America, after the antelope jackrabbit and white-tailed jackrabbit. The average adult reaches a length of 2 feet and weighs between 3 and 6 pounds. Females tend to be larger than males, but the two sexes look alike.

The jackrabbit has long ears and long rear legs. Its back fur is agouti (sandy-colored and peppered with black), while its belly fur is creamy. The black-tailed jackrabbit has black-tipped ears and a black stripe covering the top of its tail and extending a few inches up its back. The underside of the tail is gray to white.

Habitat and Distribution

Black-tailed jackrabbits are native to the southwestern United States and Mexico. They live as far north as Washington and Idaho, as far east as Missouri, and as far west as California and Baja. The midwestern population has been expanding eastward and displacing the white-tailed jackrabbit. The species has been introduced into Florida, as well as coastal New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia. Jackrabbits inhabit the same territories year-round. They do not migrate or hibernate. They occupy a range of habitats, including prairies, woodlands, desert shrublands, and croplands. Wherever they are found, they require a mixture of shrubs, forbs, and grasses for food, water, and shelter.

Black-tailed jackrabbit range
The black-tailed jackrabbit lives in the United States and Mexico. Chermundy / IUCN Red List / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Diet

Hares are herbivores. The black-tailed jackrabbit's diet varies according to the seasonal availability. It includes grasses, small trees, forbs, cacti, and shrubs. While jackrabbits can drink water, they usually obtain it from their diet.

Behavior

Jackrabbits rest under shrubs during the day and feed late afternoon and at night. Except for breeding, they lead solitary lives. The hares have numerous predators, which they evade by running in zig-zag patterns at speeds up to 30 miles per hour and jumping up to 20 feet. They swim by dog-paddling with all four feet. When threatened, the black-tailed jackrabbit flashes the pale underside of its tail to confuse predators and warn nearby hares.

Reproduction and Offspring

The black-tailed jackrabbit's mating season depends on where it lives. In cooler regions, it mates from winter to summer, with two peak breeding seasons. It breeds year-round in warmer climates. Males chase and leap at each other to compete for females. Mating induces ovulation in the female. Gestation lasts between 41 and 47 days.

In warm areas, jackrabbits have more litters, but fewer young (leverets) per litter. In the northern part of their range, litters average 4.9 leverets, while in the southern region, litters average only 2.2 leverets. The female may scrape out a shallow depression and line it with fur as a nest or may give birth in a pre-existing depression. The young are born with eyes open and full fur. They are mobile almost immediately after birth. Females nurse their young, but do not protect them or otherwise tend to them. The young are weaned around 8 weeks of age. They stay together at least a week after leaving the nest. Males are sexually mature by 7 months of age. While females mature at about the same age, they don't usually breed until their second year. Because they are heavily preyed upon by other species and subject to numerous diseases, few black-tailed jackrabbits survive their first year. However, they can live 5 to 6 years in the wild.

Young black-tailed jackrabbits
Black-tailed jackrabbits nurse their young, but do not otherwise tend to them. predrag1 / Getty Images

Conservation Status

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the black-tailed jackrabbit's conservation status as "least concern." While the hare remains relatively common, its population is declining.

Threats

The jackrabbit faces several threats. Its habitat has been reduced and fragmented by residential and commercial development, agriculture, and logging. In many areas, it is persecuted as an agricultural pest. The species is affected by changes in predator populations, disease, and invasive species. In some areas, feral cats affect jackrabbit populations. It's possible climate change may impact the black-tailed jackrabbit.

Black-Tailed Jackrabbits and Humans

Jackrabbits are hunted for sport, pest control, and food. However, black-tailed jackrabbits are often avoided because they carry many parasites and diseases. Dead jackrabbits should be handled with gloves to avoid exposure to diseases. Their meat should be thoroughly cooked to kill parasites and prevent infection with tularemia (rabbit fever).

Sources

  • Brown, D.E.; Lorenzo, C.; Álvarez-Castañeda, S.T. Lepus californicus . The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T41276A45186309. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-1.RLTS.T41276A45186309.en
  • Dunn, John P.; Chapman, Joseph A.; Marsh, Rex E. "Jackrabbits: Lepus californicus and allies" in Chapman, J. A.; Feldhamer, G. A. (eds.) Wild mammals of North America: Biology, Management and Economics. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 1982. ISBN 0-8018-2353-6.
  • Fagerstone, Kathleen A.; Lavoie, G. Keith; Griffith, Richard E. Jr. "Black-tailed jackrabbit diet and density on rangeland and near agricultural crops." Journal of Range Management. 33 (3): 229–233. 1980. doi:10.2307/3898292
  • Hoffman, R.S. and A.T Smith. "Order Lagomorpha" in Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. 2005. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0.
  • Smith, Graham W. "Home range and activity patterns of black-tailed jackrabbits." Great Basin Naturalist. 50 (3): 249–256. 1990.