Black-tailed Jack Rabbit (Lepus californicus)
(above, a Jack freezes in face of an approaching human on a high terrace of lower Hot Springs Canyon in September of 2004. When sitting still in this fashion, they are often nearly invisible.)
Main sources: Hoffmeister, D. F., 1986, Mammals of Arizona, pp. 144-5, Tucson, University of Arizona Press; Burt, W. & R. Grossenheider, eds., 1976, A Field Guide to the Mammals, , pp. 206-7, Peterson Field Guides: Houghton Mifflin; Cockrum, E.L., 1960, The Recent Mammals of Arizona: Their Taxonomy and Distribution, Tucson: University of Arizona Press; Merlin, Pinau & Peter Siminski, "Rabbits and Hares", in Steven Phillips and Patricia Comus, eds., 2000, A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert, pp. 493-5, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Press, Tucson
The Blacktail Jackrabbit and the Antelope Jackrabbit (Lepus alleni) are similar in shape, and both appear in our area (though the Blacktail is much more widely distributed in Arizona; the Antelope's distribution barely reaches our area along the San Pedro River -- see Cockrum, p. 68). The main feature distinguishing the two is the Antelope's huge ears, without black on them. (It also typically has pale, whitish sides and hips.) The Blacktail, in contrast, has ears with black tips (especially conspicuous on the dorsal sides), and its ears are not quite so outsized. Both species have black tail top and adjacent rump. In the photograph above left, identification is ambiguous since the ears are impressively large, the ear tips are not obviously black, but the sides are not obvviously pale. All of the other Jackrabbits we have photographed here, however, (in Hot Springs Canyon, mainly) are the Black-tailed. (Antelopes have been seen mainly along the San Pedro River in our area.) The Antelope Jackrabbit is quite large (from 6-13 lbs., it is one of the largest Hares in North America), while the Blacktail is considerably smaller (3-8 lbs.).
In the image at right, this is clearly a Black-tailed Jackrabbit. Note how the large eyes are placed high and towards the back of its head -- this allows it to see at very wide angles when watching for predators. (A white eye-ring is also very noticeable in most of our images.) (Click on the image for a close-up.)
Below, this Jack froze as our truck approached it in April 2007. After stopping and being dissatisfied at the image we had taken, we crept the vehicle very slowly closer. At left, you can see that the rabbit started to move, but it sat again when we stopped and took this photo. Though the muzzle is oriented away from us, note how the eye has us in direct vision. At right (as we approached slightly closer still), it shifted the muzzle to align with its stance and drew a sharp breath through its nostrils as it decided to begin its run toward the left. (Click on each image for a close-up of the head.)
In contrast to the Desert Cottontail Rabbit, our Jackrabbits tend to occupy drier, more open parts of the desert, where they can spot predators from a distance. Like the Cottontail, they are mainly nocturnal, becoming active as the sun goes down and then (unlike the Cottontail) foraging as far as several miles a night in search of the grasses, forbs, shrubs, and cacti which they eat. If they see a predator they may freeze until approach is close, when they leap away in 15-foot bounds, running quite fast, more than 30 mph. They also have considerable stamina for outlasting the chase.
Below, a Jack's version of the proverbial "rabbit's foot", i.e. a hind foot, chewed off an unfortunate who lost its last race probably on the night of February 5, 2009 (since the still-bloody piece was found on a high terrace of lower Hot Springs Canyon the next day). Note the very long foot (the toe-nails are hidden below the fur at far left; most of the length comprises the tarsus and metatarsas of this animal, the long lever that helps propel the Jack's exceptional leaping runs.
It's worth noting in passing that the fur visible along the bottom part of this foot is very dense and soft, providing a protective shoe that facilitates moving around our spiny-floored desert.
Here, at left, is an image of a Blacktail Jackrabbit (despite the limited anatomy visible, it's identifiable by its black ear tips), taken in the afternoon August sunlight of 2003. Note how the sunlight streams through the body of the left ear, revealing its translucent thinness (these large, thin ears are regarded as an adaptation for veinous cooling in the summer heat of the desert). You can also see that, despite the rabbit's posture nearly 180 degrees away from the photographer, the orbit of the left eye is clearly visible. It is watching us (as well as listening, its left ear tuning us in very nicely)! (Click on the image for a close-up view.)
Unlike the Cottontails (who breed mainly in spring and summer), Jackrabbits breed throughout the year, following dramatic, athletic courtships, and their young are born furry, with open eyes, and ready to move shortly after birth (though the young remain with their mothers longer than do the Cottontails -- for several months). When adult, Jackrabbits are also highly social, gathering on moonlit nights for conclaves reaching a dozen or more (Pinau & Siminski, p. 495). More solitary by day, when they remain still in the bushes they are quite well camouflaged, as you could see on the banner photo at the top of this page; below, a closeup of this same very wide-awake beast (seen at Collared Lizard Hill, lower Hot Springs Canyon terrace, September 10, 2004):
Most typically, we encounter them in the lower reaches of our largest washes, either in the early morning, as below, in March 2005, rubbing its nose:
or in late evening, as in November 2006, on a Lower Hot Springs Canyon terrace just before sunset:
In this latter image, note how the blackness of the tail extends up the rump along the backbone, a feature often evident as the animal runs away.