Biologists Hope Mainers Can Help Them Find Cute Little Cottontails
My dog would like to lead this research project.
My dog would have you believe that Maine's rabbit and hare population is quite robust. The second he sees one, he takes off like a rocket. But, because I generally keep him on a leash, and he's a big doofus, most animals he thinks he's chasing are long gone by the time he gets anywhere near where he spotted his creature of choice.
But just the same, the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife are hoping residents can point them in the direction of where they'll find the New England cottontail rabbits. Before you go exclaiming that you see rabbits all the time, the most commonly sighted long-ear around Maine is the snowshoe hare.
So what's the difference between a rabbit and a hare?
Great question! Generally speaking, hares have much longer ears and are a bit bigger than most rabbits. So that big, floppy-eared Bugs Bunny-looking character you see in the yard is likely a hare. The New England cottontail is much smaller, with significantly smaller ears.
The N.E. cottontail is Maine's only true indigenous rabbit. And used to be everywhere from Kittery to Belfast, according to the Pen Bay Pilot. These days, biologists believe they may only be along the coast, and in southern parts of the state. The cottontails became endangered in Maine in 2007 because of such an immense population decline.
So how can I help?
Simple. Keep your eyes out. Ears too, hahaha. But if you think you see one, you go to this link and share some info with them on what you saw. Here's what they'll be looking for from you...
- Describe the habitat/location (woods, shrubs, field)
- What traits make you think it's a cottontail, and refer to the difference between them and hares if necessary. And try not to report hare sightings.
- If possible, take a photo
Biologists at this point believe that most sightings will happen in southern Maine, but that's part of the reason they're doing this survey, and want help from folks all over the state. If you do see one, go to this website and report your findings. It's cool to be part of something like this. So good luck on your rabbit hunt!