SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Jackrabbits aren’t really rabbits; they are hares. But they breed like the old rabbit saying goes.
Female jackrabbits can mate multiple times per year and have between four and six litters every year, depending on climate conditions, according to animals.mom.com. The litters can produce two to eight young, according to Kansas State University.
When those babies are born, the jackrabbit mother hides them in separate locations to protect them, according to multiple sources.
Jackrabbits differ from rabbits in that they have large, long ears, long legs, and a larger body than rabbits. The white-tailed jackrabbit is the largest in the Great Plains, according to the U.S.D.A. It has a head and body length of 18 to 22 inches and can weigh five to 10 pounds. It is brownish gray in summer and white or pale gray in winter. The entire tail is white. The black-tailed jackrabbit is 17 to 21 inches in length and can weigh three to seven pounds. It has a grayish-brown body, large black-tipped ears, and a black streak on the top of its tail, according to the U.S.D.A.
Jackrabbits, both white-tailed and black-tailed, have been shown to adapt in rural and urban settings.
South Dakota has white-tailed and black-tailed jackrabbits. The general range of black-tailed jackrabbits is central South Dakota. White-tailed jackrabbits are found throughout the state.
But with the attention to preservation, the prolific breeding and the ability to adapt, the jackrabbit population in South Dakota has not been doing so well at since at least the early 2000s.
A 2004-2005 study on the white-tailed jackrabbit in South Dakota concluded that “Wildlife managers will need to continue to monitor the population to determine what is causing the apparent continuing population decline of white-tailed jackrabbits.” The study was completed by Charles Dieter of South Dakota State University and Dustin Schaible of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
It was shared in 2012 by the University of Nebraska.
Research completed in late 2019 and published in 2020 by the Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management noted that the distribution and population of white-tailed jackrabbits has been happening since 1950.
“We suggest that altered predator communities, habitat loss, and climate change are mostly responsible for the decline and extirpation of white-tailed jackrabbits. Evidence suggests that these threats are continuing and may accelerate in the future,” the researchers said. ” The white-tailed jackrabbit is already lost from a large proportion of its historical range and evidence indicates that declines are continuing, with little proactive conservation efforts by states and provinces to understand or reverse these trends.”
According to the South Game Fish and Parks Department, jackrabbits “are active primarily at night. They are usually found in grassland habitats but also utilize croplands from time-to-time. Jackrabbits have a summer and winter color. During the summer months they appear brownish and then during the fall and winter months their fur is white/grayish except for their black-tipped ears.”
Jackrabbits are harvested for fur in South Dakota. According to the GFP, 2,027 jackrabbits were harvested in 2019-2020 with an average price of $3.34.
Another pressure on the overall jackrabbit population could be agriculture production and the use of pesticides and fertilizers.
“The effects of recent applications of weed killers and other newly-developed chemicals remain unknown,” a 2018 study on jackrabbits said. The study was conducted through Arizona State University and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Region. “Although changes in agricultural practices cannot explain jackrabbit declines in rangelands, a systematic collection and analysis of rabbits in areas subject to such treatments is much needed,” the study said.
But researchers have also noted that agriculture land could provide shelter and food to jackrabbits. Yet, a 2010 study of the white-tailed jackrabbit population on an Iowa State University research farm showed that the jackrabbit population on the farm was declining.