Scientific Name: Sylvilagus obscurus
Classification: Small game
Abundance: Locally abundant
Species Profile (PDF)
Appalachian Cottontail Rabbit (Photo by N.C. State Parks)
The Appalachian cottontail is a medium-sized rabbit with brownish upper body and white underparts. The species cannot be conclusively distinguished from the eastern cottontail just using external traits. However, the Appalachian cottontail is slightly smaller than the eastern cottontail, and usually has a black spot between its ears, which are relatively short compared to the eastern cottontail. Additionally, the Appalachian cottontail does not have a white spot on the forehead, which often is present on eastern cottontails.
A more reliable method of distinguishing between Appalachian and eastern cottontails is to compare skulls. When examining the Appalachian cottontail's skull from above, the suture line where the nasal (nose) bones attach to the skull forms an irregular, jagged line. That line is smooth and regular in the eastern cottontail. However, genetic analysis provides the most accurate determination of species.
Learn more by reading the Appalachian Cottontail species profile.
The Appalachian cottontail is classified as a game species with season and bag limits.
Seasons and limits (PDF)
Rabbits build their nests in low, dense vegetation, and are often discovered by unsuspecting homeowners when gardening or mowing the lawn. If you find a nest and there is no adult nearby, don’t worry - this is normal. Female rabbits only visit the nest to feed their young a few times a day, and will avoid drawing any attention to its location when people or other potential predators are nearby. If the young are undisturbed, it is best to leave the nest alone as you found it. Baby rabbits that are unharmed but outside the nest can be gently put back and the vegetation pressed into place to cover them. It can help to run your hands in dirt first to prevent leaving human scent around the nest, which may attract predators. If one or more of the young rabbits are obviously injured, contact a licensed small mammal rehabilitator. If you suspect the nest has been or will be abandoned, place twigs or fresh blades of grass over the opening in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Check back in 24 hours and if the twigs have not been disturbed, contact a rehabilitator.
Young rabbits found outside the nest that are larger than 4 inches long and able to hop around freely are independent juveniles and do not need assistance. Young rabbits that are smaller than 4 inches and are relatively immobile are still under the care of their mother and should be returned to the nest, if possible. For young that are visibly injured or cannot be returned to the nest, contact a licensed small mammal rehabilitator for assistance.
Steep topography, limited access, and cold winter temperatures of high elevations in western North Carolina protect many Appalachian cottontail populations from intense hunting pressure. Appalachian cottontails are hunted and captured using box traps, but the more accessible eastern cottontail populations in mountain valleys receive more hunting pressure. Visitors to high elevations may see the Appalachian cottontail along grassy roadsides and the edges of woodland openings.
Distribution, Habitat Preferences, and Landscape Genetics of Appalachian Cottontail (Sylvilagus obscurus) in Western North Carolina (PDF)
2015-2019 Rabbit Hunting and Harvest Estimate Maps (PDF)
1949-2019 Rabbit Harvest and Hunter Trends (PDF)
Appalachian Cottontail Rabbit species profile (PDF)
Rabbit Hemorrhagic Disease (PDF)