One of the more visible animals seen on the Guadalupe River Trail is the Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus). Jackrabbits are members of the order Lagamorpha, which comes from the Greek words lagos for “hare” and morphe meaning “form”. The order includes hares, rabbits, and pikas. Many people mistake rabbits and hares for large members of the rodent family. Lagomorphs, unlike rodents, have four (4) incisors in their upper jaw (rodents have only two incisors) and Lagomorphs will, for the most part, eat only vegetation while rodents will eat both meat and vegetation.


Jackrabbits are easily identified by their long, black tipped ears, long gray-brown body and large hind legs. Jackrabbits average 3 to 7 pounds in weight and are 17 to 25 inches long. Jackrabbits also have a fairly large tail that is tipped in black and usually carried upright over their back.


The long legs and strong body of the Jackrabbit make then very athletic. Jackrabbits have been measured at speeds up to 40-45 miles per hour and can leap up to 19 feet high in one jump! Besides their speed and agility Jackrabbits rely on their keen sense of hearing to protect them from predators such as coyotes, Red-tailed Hawks, Great Horned Owls, foxes, and bobcats.


Jackrabbits are most active in the late evening, night and early morning. They can be found through out California in open valleys, grasslands and into the foothills and desserts. Jackrabbits are very adaptable and will live in urban areas such as parks, golf courses, and airports. Jackrabbits eat a variety of foods depending on their location and the time of year. Like most rabbits and hares they prefer green grasses, and other small succulent plants. They will also eat leaves, bark, or the seeds of woody plants if needed. Jackrabbits will begin grazing in the evening and continue feeding all night. If there is plenty of food they may only travel a short distance each night. Jackrabbits will frequently use the same route over and over again creating easily spotted paths through the grass. Another unique feature of the Jackrabbit is its ability to go without a source of water. Jackrabbits are capable of surviving on just the moisture they get from the plants they eat. Jackrabbits are typically solitary animals but may come together in groups when food sources are limited.


Breeding season for Jackrabbits is usually from January to August. The female (or doe) will have 2-3 young that are born fully furred, eyes open and able to move about easily within a day. Young Jackrabbits are known as leverets until they are about a year old. A doe can have as many as 5 to 6 litters of babies each year. The doe does not have a burrow or nest but gives birth in a “form”. Forms are shallow bowls, slightly deeper at one end, which the Jackrabbit scrapes out of soft soil under cover of a shrub or other plant. Adult Jackrabbits will also use forms as resting places during day. While the babies are up and active quickly the doe will still nurse her babies for up to 12 weeks after birth.


Hare or Rabbit?
While we call them Jackrabbits, they are actually hares. As a general rule rabbits give birth to blind and hairless babies in underground burrows or warrens. Rabbits will have shorter ears and are typically much smaller and less athletic than hares.


Hares, including Jackrabbits, live in shallow depressions or flattened grass nests and their young are born fully furred with open eyes and able to move about a short time after birth. Rabbits have also been successfully domesticated are frequently kept as pets or raised for rood and fur. Hares are very nervous animals and have never been domesticated.

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