Black-tailed Jackrabbit
Tracks and Sign

Lepus californicus

Black-tailed Jackrabbit Tracks

Front feet: 1 7/8 - 2.5 in L x 1.25 - 1.75 in. W
Hind feet: 2.5 - 5.5 in. L x 1 3/8 - 2.5 in W

 

Natural History of Black-tailed Jackrabbits

Black-tailed jackrabbit at Walker Creek, near Petaluma, CA The black-tailed jackrabbit is the most widespread jackrabbit. It lives on river bars, in meadows, barren areas, and sand dunes. The jackrabbit is a hare, which means its young are born with fur and with their eyes open. They are most active in the late afternoon, preferring to spend the day resting in a form, a shallow depression the size of its body that the animal scoops out of the dirt.

Jackrabbits eat grasses and leafy vegetation in the summer. In winter, they feed on woody or dried vegetation. Sometimes these social animals will feed in groups.

Jackrabbits have excellent hearing. Their ears can be 5 inches long. In addition to collecting sound, the large ears serve to disperse some of the animal's body heat on hot days.

Jackrabbits can weigh three to six pounds. Although they are larger than cottontails, the hind tracks may appear smaller because jackrabbits tend to run on the toes of the hind feet. The long heels do not leave marks when the animal is running like this. The hind feet can be 5 inches long. Jackrabbits rarely walk. They hop five to ten feet at a time. At top speed, the animal can leap 20 feet or more. They can run 30 to 35 miles per hour over a short distance. When running, the animal sometimes jumps exceptionally high every few leaps to get a look around.

Blacktailed Jackrabbit running. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera.

The white underside of the tail is flashed when escaping from a predator. This may confuse the predator or warn other jackrabbits of danger. Jackrabbits will also thump the ground with their big hind feet to signal danger.

The home range of a jackrabbit is about ten acres. Jackrabbit young are born in a deep form lined with soft materials, including fur from the mother's chest. These animals are prolific, with one to four litters of up to eight young born each year. Sometimes the mother will place the young in separate forms to decrease the chances that a predator will find them all. She stays away from them during the daytime and returns several times a night to nurse the young. This is a way of avoiding attracting the attention of a predator. The young can take care of themselves in one month.

Common predators include foxes, owls, hawks, snakes, and coyotes.

Tracks in mud sometimes show the hair on the bottom of the feet. In sand, the trail pattern, stride length, and the size of the imprints are the best indicators of jackrabbit tracks.

 

Blacktailed jackrabbit. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera.

   

Blacktailed jackrabbit left front track. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera.

Blacktailed jackrabbit right front track. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera.

Left front track. The amount of fur on the feet obscures the details of the toes.

Right front track. Although the fur blurs the details, you can make out imprints of the toes. There are three outer toes (to the right) and one inner toe (to the left.) The fifth toe is not seen.
   

Blacktailed jackrabbit left hind track. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera.

Blacktailed jackrabbit right hind track. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera.

The toes left good imprints in this left hind footprint

The right hind track shows nice details of the toes and fur.

   
 

 

 

Scat is a spherical pellet about inch in diameter.

Black-tailed jackrabbit scat.

   

blacktailed jackrabbit scats

black-tailed jackrabbit scat

More black-tailed jackrabbit scats. Their scats can look like squished spheres, or they can be more round in appearance. Jackrabbits produce two kinds of scats. The cecal scats are first. These are eaten (called coprophagy) to take advantage of a second run through the digestive tract. This helps the animal gain as many nutrients as possible from the foods they eat.
   
scats from jackrabbit
Dried jackrabbit scats found in a field where the animal had been feeding. Jackrabbits produce one pellet at a time, unlike deer, which expel many pellets in a large clump. Because of this, you can tell that, if you find many jackrabbit scats in one place, that means the animal was in that spot for a while, or that it repeatedly returned there to feed.
   
   
Blacktailed jackrabbit. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.
Jackrabbit sitting up alertly, wary of predators.
   
Blacktailed jackrabbit. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.
Jackrabbit alert and poised, ready to run away.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.
Jackrabbits use their large ears to listen for danger.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

When they run, jackrabbits can make very long leaps. This position is called extended suspension and is one of the airborne phases of the rabbit's gait, normally a bound.

 
Jackrabbit front foot cast. The front foot of a jackrabbit, cast in plaster of Paris. This cast shows details not usually seen in the tracks. The bottom of the foot is covered with hair and the toes are indistinct.
   
The hind foot of the jackrabbit is much longer than the front foot. When the animal moves, the entire foot surface is not usually in contact with the ground, so the tracks do not appear this large.

Jackrabbit hind foot cast.

   
   
blacktailed jackrabbit footprint. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

A perfect jackrabbit track in mud. Very good detail of the furry sole can be seen here. You can also see the holes left by the claws at the tip of the track. I made a cast of this track, which is below. The cast shows some good detail. One thing you can see here is the small inner toe, toe number one. (It's that tiny imprint with a claw next to the LF in the photo.) This is difficult to see in jackrabbit tracks because it is small and usually obscured by fur.

   
jackrabbit track cast.  Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

A cast made of the jackrabbit track above. Notice that the detail of the fur shows up well in this cast. You can also more clearly see the alignment of the toes here. Claw marks are visible. The red arrow indicates the direction of travel. Notice that toe number one only shows up here as a claw mark.

   
 Jackrabbit track left hind foot. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

The left front track of a black-tailed jackrabbit. Notice the lack of clear detail on the toes, due to the furry feet. Also, the toes are not aligned perfectly, which is characteristic of the tracks of lagomorphs (rabbits, and jackrabbits or hares)

   
Jackrabbit track right front foot.  Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.

The right front track of a black-tailed jackrabbit. Notice that the toes are offset, making a sort of J shape. Their alignment is not perfect, as it is in canines.

   
jackrabbit track pair.  Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2009.
A beautiful pair of paw prints in sand on a recently graded dirt road. Jackrabbits have very furry feet and the toes do not usually leave clear imprints. The fur is thick and protective.
   
   

Photo of Notch, the jackrabbit, by Kim A. Cabrera. Copyright 2007. Do not use without permission.
This is a jackrabbit I call Notch. See the notch in the right ear? This mark helps me identify this particular individual. The injury may have been the result of an attack by a predator.

Photo of Notch, the jackrabbit, by Kim A. Cabrera. Copyright 2007. Do not use without permission.
The large ears of jackrabbits help them to stay cool in summer. There is a large surface area with veins running through it. Jackrabbits will sit in shade when they are warm. The air moving around the ears also helps to cool them by cooling the blood moving through the ear veins.

   

Photo of Notch, the jackrabbit, by Kim A. Cabrera. Copyright 2007. Do not use without permission.

 

Jackrabbits are prey for many larger mammals and must be very wary when out and about. They frequently stop to just sit and listen for danger. One common technique when startled is to run quickly into the brush and then stop and freeze and listen. This allows the animal to determine whether or not a predator is pursuing it.

   
This jackrabbit flushed from the brush ahead of me on a dirt road. I happened to have the camera in hand and snapped this shot as it ran away. You can clearly see that the bottoms of the feet are covered with fur, which makes for unclear tracks. Also, you can see why the toe-pads are not very clear in jackrabbit tracks.

Blacktailed jackrabbit leaping. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera. 2007

   

Blacktailed jackrabbit tracks. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera. 2007.

This is a perfect set of jackrabbit tracks on a beach at the Manila Dunes, near Eureka, CA. The direction of travel is indicated by the arrow. The smaller tracks on the upper left are the front feet. The larger and deeper tracks at lower right are the hind tracks.
   

Blacktailed jackrabbit tracks on a dirt road. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Blacktailed jackrabbit tracks found on a dusty dirt road. These are almost ideal conditions for finding tracks. Lighter weight animals, such as rabbits and lizards, leave nice footprints on this kind of soil. These jackrabbit paw prints are moving from right to left in the photo. This gait pattern is typical of rabbits and hares. A jackrabbit is a hare, which is an animal whose young are born with their eyes open, having fur, and able to move about on their own.
   
Black-tailed jackrabbit scats in gravel. Scats are composed of well-packed vegetation that the rabbits feed on. Jackrabbits, as well as other species, practice coprophagy. This means that some of their scats are passed through their digestive system twice. The first time, some nutrients are removed and used by the animal's body. Those pellets are then excreted. They are darker than other pellets. These pellets are then eaten by the animal and the nutrients are used by its body. This is a good way for animals, particularly in areas with a scarcity of food, to completely utilize the nutrients in their food.

Blacktailed jackrabbit scat. Photo by Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

   

Blacktailed jackrabbit scats. Photo  Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

These scats show the spherical form of typical jackrabbit scats.

   
   

Scat comparison among herbivores. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2007.

The three different scats on the left are provided to compare between different herbivore species. Deer scats are more oblong than those of rabbits. Turkeys are more tubular and larger than the others. All are composed of similar material.
   

Jackrabbit scat close-up. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Jackrabbit scats close-up. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Close-ups of jackrabbit scats. These scats look like highly compressed balls of hay. This is, in effect, what they are. Compressed vegetation.

   
   
Blacktailed jackrabbit feeding sign on vegetation. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
View of blacktailed jackrabbit feeding sign on a wild clover related plant.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit feeding sign on vegetation. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Close up showing the clean cuts that are characteristic of jackrabbit feeding sign.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit feeding sign on vegetation. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
The nice clean 45 degree cut is typical of rabbits, including the jackrabbit.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit feeding sign on vegetation. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
This plant was about as wide as a pencil. The clean cuts and size of vegetation indicate jackrabbit feeding.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit feeding sign on vegetation. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
A beautiful example of jackrabbit feeding sign.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit feeding sign on vegetation. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
In the absence of other plants, the jackrabbit will continue to clip this plant down to the ground.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit feeding sign on vegetation. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Nice illustration of the 45-degree cut made by a jackrabbit.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit toe prints in sand. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Often, all you will find to indicate jackrabbit tracks is the prints from the nails.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit track in sand. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
This perfect jackrabbit print shows the offset of the toes and the overall shape of the print.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit trail on a sand dune. Photo copyright Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A nice example of a jackrabbit trail pattern in the sand of a coastal sand dune. This jackrabbit was leaping up the dune and the feet fell closer together in each group.

   
A nice set of jackrabbit tracks in silty soil. The rabbit was hopping slowly from left to right. The front feet are paired in this photo. Normally, they are staggered. The larger hind feet are on the right.

Blacktailed jackrabbit tracks. Photo copyright by Kim Cabrera 2005.

   

Young jackrabbit. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera. 2008.

Young jackrabbit out feeding in early evening. This animal was about half the size of an adult.
   
Blacktaild jackrabbit. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Blacktailed jackrabbit ready to run.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit grooming. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Blacktailed jackrabbit grooming its fur.

 

Blacktailed jackrabbit scats. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Blacktailed jackrabbit scats.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit resting. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Jackrabbit resting at the side of a road.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit running. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Blacktailed jackrabbit running.
 
Blacktailed jackrabbit track in dust. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Blacktailed jackrabbit track in dust.
   

A set of all four jackrabbit tracks. The two on the right are the front tracks and the paired ones on the left are the hind tracks. This is the typical jackrabbit gait  pattern. The direction of travel is from right to left.

Blacktailed jackrabbit paw prints. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
   
Blacktailed jackrabbit tracks showing a change of direction. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Reading the tracks. A blacktailed jackrabbit sat here and then made a change of direction. It was heading directly to the left, but paused here, then hopped off to the upper left. Notice the long hind tracks where it sat down and then the smaller front feet leading off in the new direction.

 
Blacktailed jackrabbit and bobcat tracks. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

A blacktailed jackrabbit was heading to the upper left in this photo. It paused and sat here briefly. Rabbits will often sit still and listen for danger. The bobcat's track crosses the rabbit's, heading toward the lower right in the photo.

 
Jackrabbit toe prints. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
The toe prints of a jackrabbit in dust. This is the left foot. The toes were the only part that left an imprint here.
Notice how the toes are asymmetrically aligned.
 
Jackrabbit scat. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.
Jackrabbit scat in a dry grassy field.
   

Right front track of a jackrabbit. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

Hind track of a jackrabbit. Photo copyright by Kim A. Cabrera 2008.

The front and hind tracks of a blacktailed jackrabbit. These tracks were made in deep dust. They demonstrate that the heavily furred feet or rabbits and hares leave very little pattern in the tracks. The extra fur probably keeps their feet warm in winter as well as cushioning their steps. This possibly helps them to stay quiet as they move about, something that is important for a prey species.

Personal Notes on Black-tailed Jackrabbit

 

I have seen many of these animals around at dusk. Their populations seem to fluctuate a lot. One year, there will be jackrabbits everywhere. Next year, there may be very few. They have startled me several times when I've been out walking in creekbeds. They freeze and stay very still until danger passes. However, when I inadvertently get too close, the animal will spring away and take off running. I was stepping over a log once when a jackrabbit sprung from underneath it, almost making me lose my balance.

 

The jackrabbit I mentioned above, the one I called Notch due to the scar in his ear, stuck around all summer. This hare had regular routes used. There were regular feeding spots, and a nice resting "bed" out in the open where he could watch for predators. It was near the tall grass, where he could easily hide. This very open spot provided a 360-degree view all around and was ideal for resting during the day. I'd see him there often. Sometimes, I'd surprise him as I drove out the dirt road. Then, he'd run up the road and take off on one of his well-used trails into the grass.

 

 

prints

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