Differences Between Cottontail Rabbits and Snowshoe Hares

By Lauren B

Cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hares are both native to North America. In some central regions, such as southern Canada, their ranges overlap. Both mammals are most active during the night and the twilight periods before dawn and dusk. Cottontail rabbits are brown year-round. The snowshoe hare grows a white coat for the winter to blend better with the snow. Both species have many predators, such as foxes, lynx, large birds of prey and man.

Location and Habitat

Cottontail rabbits are commonly found throughout central and eastern North America and northern parts or South America. They rabbits typically inhabit meadows and farmland where there is enough plant growth to provide places to hide from predators, such as foxes.

Snowshoe hares prefer colder country and are found in central and northern regions of Canada and the Appalachian mountains. Snowshoe hares will avoid open ground if possible, preferring to remain in forests and thick plant cover.

Feeding

Cottontail rabbits feed primarily at night and exclusively on plants, with a preference for soft grasses and herbs in the summertime. Cottontails are frequent pests of farmland, where they consume crops. During the winter, cottontail rabbits may feed on tree bark when there is not enough grass.

Snowshoe hares feed mostly at night. They feed on a wide range of plant species, both soft and woody. The hares also will eat twigs and buds when food is short. According to the John Hopkins University Press, there are records of snowshoe hares capturing and consuming voles.

Physical Attributes

Cottontail rabbits are small rabbits that vary in color between deep brown and a soft brownish grey. The cottontails all have a distinctive fluffy white tail. Cottontail rabbits range between 15 and 18 inches long, and they can weigh up to 55 ounces. In the wild they rarely live for more than three years.

Snowshoe hares are brownish grey in summer but change to a white coat in winter. Their fur color change takes roughly 10 weeks to complete, during which the hare will be patchy. These hares get their name from their large hind feet. Snowshoe hares are up to 20 inches long and can weigh as much as four pounds. Snowshoe hares rarely live for more than one year in the wild.