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Jackrabbit

Lepus californicus

Photo: A black-tailed jackrabbit rests near a cactus

Photo: A black-tailed jackrabbit rests near a cactus (View larger version)

Photograph by Annie Griffiths Belt

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Jackrabbits are actually hares, not rabbits. Hares are larger than rabbits, and they typically have taller hind legs and longer ears. Jackrabbits were named for their ears, which initially caused some people to refer to them as "jackass rabbits." The writer Mark Twain brought this name to fame by using it in his book of western adventure, Roughing It. The name was later shortened to jackrabbit.

There are five species of jackrabbits, all found in central and western North America. They are speedy animals capable of reaching 40 miles (64 kilometers) an hour, and their powerful hind legs can propel them on leaps of more than ten feet (three meters). They use these leaps and a zigzag running style to evade their many predators.

Black-tailed jackrabbits are common in American deserts, scrublands, and other open spaces, including farms. They can consume very large quantities of grasses and plants—including desert species such as sagebrush and cacti.

White-tailed jackrabbits are another common species. They frequent North America's plains and farmlands, though they also inhabit wooded areas. They are prolific eaters and can consume over a pound (0.5 kilograms) of grasses, shrubs, or bark each day.

The jackrabbit's breeding prowess is well known. Females can give birth to several litters a year, each with one to six young. The young mature quickly and require little maternal care.

Booming jackrabbit populations can cause problems for farmers, especially in light of the animals' healthy appetite. Jackrabbits are often killed for crop protection, but in general their populations are stable and not in need of protection.

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