The black-tailed jackrabbit is one of the largest North American hares, measuring about 2 feet in length and weighing up to 8 pounds. Though hares and rabbits are in the same family, Leporidae, the two groups are in different genera and differ physically from each other in several respects. For example, young hares are born fully furred with eyes open and are active shortly after birth (precocial). Rabbits, on the other hand, are referred to as altricial, being born almost naked, with eyes closed, and must be protected during development after birth for about 2 weeks and are weaned after a month. Hares also a larger than rabbits and have larger ears. They also make above-ground nests, whereas most rabbits inhabit burrows.
The black-tailed jackrabbit occurs throughout open country habitats in New Mexico and the southwest, extending up the Great Plains into South Dakota. They have a varied diet including forbs and grasses, as well as shrubs and leaves, twigs, seeds, seedling trees and cacti. Most water is provided by the plants they consume. The large ears provide a cooling function in addition to enhancing hearing ability. Black-tailed jackrabbits are an important food source in their prairie grassland and scrubland habitats for such predators as hawks, owls, and eagles. Golden eagle population cycles have even been found to correlate with jackrabbit abundance. Many mammals also rely on jackrabbits for prey, including coyotes, bobcats and lynx, foxes, wolves, and mountain lion. Raccoons and skunks take some young jackrabbits, as do snakes.
Jackrabbits do not migrate or hibernate in winter. I’ve seen jacks bound out of their shrub shelters on walks through snowy fields during winter. Home range varies according to the quality of available foods, but they may travel up to 10 miles during a day, foraging mostly at night. They may run up to 30 miles per hour, running and hopping in a zig-zag pattern to evade predators. Females may produce several litters each year, nursing the young but otherwise providing little in the way of care or nurturing. The life span of a jackrabbit is about 5 years in the wild.
Jackrabbits are so commonly infested with internal and external parasites that hunters do not normally take them for food. They are mostly hunted in pest control measures or for sport.
Photos taken near Moriarty off old Highway 41 using a Nikon P900 camera. My dog posed no danger to the hare and the jack seemed to understand that.
James Taulman is a semi-retired research wildlife biologist, having worked with the U.S. Forest Service research branch and taught zoology, ecology, and other courses in several university positions. He is currently living in the East Mountains, and explores natural areas observing native wildlife and conducting independent research experiments.