Many, if not most, Texas residents are astonished at the diversity of wildlife that inhabits this great state of ours. The vast majority of the hundreds of varieties of fauna that reside here are not easily recognizable to most Texans. However, there is a “big-eared” fellow is so familiar to most everyone that even a professional hockey team in west Texas has donned the name based on it, and that animal is the well-known Black-tailed Jackrabbit.
Black-tailed Jackrabbits (Lepus californicus) dwell within suitable habitats of almost the entire state of Texas, save for a small swath of land in the coastal southeast. It is far more abundant in the Trans-Pecos and Panhandle eco-regions. It is the only member of its genus to inhabit this state, although further analysis in DNA may ultimately show that there are actually two or more. Jackrabbits are the larger of the two genera of hares that occur in Texas. Adult “jacks” may approach twenty four inches in total length, of which only four inches is the tail. Adult males can weigh as much as an astonishing nine pounds, although the average is usually between five and six pounds.
As the common name implies, this large hare can be described by the black-tipping of its ears. However, it is far more celebrated for not the coloration on the ears, but rather the size of the ears themselves. Unlike the other genera of rabbits found in this state which have small to modest-sized ears, this species almost looks laughable with its ears almost the size of its hind feet, approaching six inches or so. The body is rather drab, grayish to brown with light frostings of black. The underbelly is white, as is a narrow rings that encircles each eye. The short tail, just like the humongous ears, is decorated at the tip with a black patch. The back legs are long and lanky while the front legs, though gangly in appearance as well, are noticeably shorter. The eyes are large and are often colored a light yellow hue.
Although they can be observed almost statewide, Jackrabbits prefer habitats of dry scrubland and grasslands. In these dry forays, they will feed on various grasses, herbs, young mesquite, and prickly pear cactus. “Jacks” typically begin their daily activity around sunset and will often be lively well into the night. They avoid midday activity during the summer months by reclining in “beds” that they scrabble out underneath small shrubs. Unlike many other mammals, they will not go through a hibernation period during the winter.
Jack Rabbits tend to live solitary lives for much of the year, although many will gather together in areas that are deemed to be beneficial for feeding. These concentrated gatherings are often in direct competition with ranch animals. Thus, many ranchers consider this species to be a nuisance animal.
Jackrabbits will breed year-round in Texas, with larger mature females producing up to six litters annually. Each litter is comprised of anywhere from one to six young which are able to move about and almost take care of themselves shortly after birth. Growth rates are rapid; most young that survive attain adult sizes in about seven months.
This species of hare is quite common throughout its range in Texas. Population trends vary from year to year, and these trends vary depending primarily on the amount of rainfall received. It also plays an important role as a prey item for predators such as bobcats, coyotes, weasels, and foxes. “Jacks” will utilize the enormous ears that they have been gifted with to avoid such predators. Also worth mentioning is that the elimination of these predators can actually cause spikes in the population of Jackrabbits.