Cottontail Salad Fest
by Lang Elliott and Siobhan McClory
Over much of eastern North America, the Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) is fairly common, and often frequents yards and gardens, especially when the grass and accompanying herbs (especially clovers) are allowed to grow tall.
While a video of a cottontail eating herbs may seem somewhat mundane, it is really captivating to watch one feed. Note the long sequence where the rabbit gradually swallows a tender young milkweed that is about a foot long. Note how he/she never pauses from chewing in order to swallow, as we humans are likely to do. So swallowing must happen effortlessly during the chewing process.
Have you ever wondered how much chewing a cottontail does in one day? Analyzing the video, you will find that the he chews about 150 times per minute … at least when he has a mouthful. That translates to 9000 chews per hour. If we assume the cottontail spends around six hours per day eating (could be lots more), that would amount to a whopping 54,000 chews! Over the weeks and months, that would be enough to grind the teeth down to nothing, were it not for the fact that rabbit’s teeth grow continuously throughout life, compensating for such wear.
Notes from Lang Elliott:
I’m thrilled with our rabbit video, an uplifting celebration of a commonplace mammal, happily feeding among the salad greens that make up our lawn. There is a strong element of tranquility in such herbivory. It reminds me of the overwhelming peacefulness that emanates from cows chewing their hours away in the tall swaying grass of green meadows.
I feel fortunate indeed that we captured such a precious glimpse of the nibbling, chewing, and swallowing of this furry backyard delight!
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