Animals naturally adapt to their environment in order to survive. Over several generations, the physical features of a species may change. These structural adaptations help the animal to do better in its surroundings. For example, a bird with a thicker, stronger beak may be able to crack open a larger variety of seeds available in its habitat. That structural adaptation gives it an advantage. Cottontail rabbits have a number of structural adaptations that help them thrive in a wide range of environments and avoid predators.
The cottontail rabbit eats tender foods during the summer. It crops grass and will raid gardens. During the winter, the cottontail survives by eating bark, twigs and other tough foods. The cottontail rabbit's front teeth are sharp and grow continuously. This adaptation allows the rabbit to eat a broad variety of foods without dulling its teeth.
Eyes & Ears
The cottontail rabbit has excellent eyesight with eyes that are proportionately larger than other rabbits. It also has keen hearing. The cottontail's ears can move independently of each other, so it can focus its hearing in different directions. Combined, the two senses help the rabbit detect danger in time to escape. Because so many predators eat rabbits, early detection of danger gives the rabbit a better chance of survival.
The cottontail rabbit has strong back legs that help it to run fast in the face of danger. A cottontail rabbit can run up to 18 miles an hour in an effort to escape a predator. It will often run in a zigzag pattern that helps keep predators from successfully pouncing on it. It can also use its strong back legs in a fight when cornered. In some cases, cottontail rabbits have driven off dogs by using their back legs to kick and scratch.
The cottontail's coat is a grizzled brown and grey. The rabbit also has a white underbelly and the distinctive white tail. The grizzling of its fur helps the cottontail to blend into the underbrush, making it difficult for predators to see.
There is some debate about whether or not the white tail on the cottontail rabbit is advantageous or not. According to some scientists, the white tail is a warning signal, so when a rabbit bolts, other rabbits know to follow. Other scientists believe the white tail may be a sign of submission between fellow rabbits, which may help to communicate and establish social structure.