Friday, January 28, 2011

Eastern Cottontail

The Eastern Cottontail is one of the most common small mammals of Minnesota (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources), yet until last evening my only evidence of their feeding below our bird feeders was their tracks in the morning.  Despite very poor light, finally I was able to photograph one for my blog. 

Cottontails are prolific.  During the summer, they give birth to litters every three or four weeks. We would be knee-deep in rabbits were it not that cottontails serve as prey to a number of hunters, both human and many others, including hawks and owls.  Cottontails serve as reservoirs for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (transmitted via ticks) and, perhaps more importantly, tularemia.  This disease is caused by a bacterium and causes flu-like symptoms.  There is a five percent mortality rate for untreated cases--one percent for treated ones.  Although the bacterium is transmitted by ticks, horseflies or mosquitoes, it can also be transmitted by direct contact with uncooked rabbit meat (Google Health). Care is advised for anyone handling wild rabbits.

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