Animal #74 — Mountain Cottontail

sylvilagus nuttallii

Goldfield, Colorado — Vindicator Valley Trail

Thursday, July 15, 2021 — 2:07 pm

Mountain and Desert Cottontails are both widespread in Colorado, and I’ve never found a definitive way to tell them apart—if anyone has. I saw my lifer Desert Cottontail near La Junta, where the elevation along the Arkansas River is just above 4,000 feet, so I feel pretty confident about that one. I see cottontails in my neighborhood all the time and have never been sure which species they are.

Belinda and Elizabeth came to visit for a couple days. On Thursday, I took them up to Vindicator Valley and hiked the trail past the old gold mines. I saw this cottontail on the hillside below the first big mine hoist. The elevation there is almost 10,000 feet, and since every bit of information I can find says that Desert Cottontails don’t go above 7,000 feet, I feel confident that this was a Mountain Cottontail.

I saw it hopping away from me as I walked down the trail. It went about four feet to cover beneath a bush, where I took this photo. The hair in the ears and on the feet of a Mountain Cottontail is longer than on a Desert Cottontail, and the ears are rounder, but without seeing two of them right next to each other, these marks aren’t worth much.

Since this observation, I’ve paid closer attention to the cottontails I see around my neighborhood. The hair on the leading edge of the ear is definitely shorter than that on the cottontail in the photo above. The difference isn’t one that jumps out at me, but it’s definite and consistent, leading me to believe even more strongly than the one in the photo is a Mountain Cottontail and that I could tell the difference if I got a good, close look.

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