Sylvilagus insonusOmilteme cottontail

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Geographic Range

Omilteme cottontails (Sylvilagus insonus) have a very limited distribution. They are found in the Sierra Madre del Sur, located near the small town of Omilteme, Guerrero, Mexico. Omilteme cottontails are an extremely rare species, with a geographic range of less than 500 km2. They occur sympatrically with Mexican cottontails (Sylvilagus cunicularius) and eastern cottontails (Sylvilagus floridanus). (Cerballos and Navarro, 1991; Diersing, 1981; Nelson, 1904; Nelson, 1909)

Habitat

Sierra Madre del Sur is a semi-isolated mountain range near the small town of Omilteme, Guerrero, Mexico. Omilteme cottontails are restricted to this mountain range, which offers the humid, dense forests that they prefer. They live amongst dense undergrowth, tunneling to hide movement and digging under rocks or other object to create burrows. Omilteme cottontails are restricted to pine and pine-oak forests in the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains, which have elements of temperate forests such as pine species, oaks, and alders. (Diersing, 1981; Nelson, 1904; Nelson, 1909)

  • Range elevation
    2,230 to 5, 280 m
    to ft

Physical Description

Omilteme cottontails are large rabbits with long ears, short tails and average sized hind feet. Only three specimens have ever been collected, so measurements and observations are based on a very small sample size. Their ears, which are estimated to be between 53 and 63.5 mm (measured from notch), are dark blackish-brown on the convex side with a black border and tip. The dorsal body is greyish-black with a mixture of rufous and black on the back and they have white ventral surfaces. The tail, which is between 30 and 45 mm, is reddish-black on the dorsal side and white on the ventral side. The hind feet have white tops with black soles. Omilteme cottontails lives sympatrically with Mexican cottontails and eastern cottontails, but are notably smaller in all measurements.

Omilteme cottontails have large skulls with a long palate, broad brain case, large maxillary and mandibular tooth rows, short diastema and incisive foramina, and a shallow skull depth. Omilteme cottontails have a dental formula of: incisors 2/1, canines 0/0, premolars 3/2 and molars 3/3, totaling 28.

Of the three collected specimens, measurements were taken of two. The two specimens had cranial and external measurements of: mean mass, 2.58 kg; mean body length (including the head but excluding the tail), 425 mm; mean length of the tail, 43 mm; mean length of hind foot, 94.5 mm; mean diameter of bullae, 9.1 mm; mean interorbital breadth, 17.6 mm; mean basilar length, 58.1 mm. (Diersing, 1981; Nelson, 1904; Nelson, 1909; Nowak, 1999; cervantes and lorenzo, 1997)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    2.46 to 2.7 kg
    5.42 to 5.95 lb
  • Range length
    430 to 440 mm
    16.93 to 17.32 in

Reproduction

Nothing is known about Omilteme cottontail mating systems, although they are thought to be similar to other cottontail species, where males and females meet with multiple mates. (Hall, 1981; Lumpkin and Seidensticker, 2011; Nowak, 1999)

No reports of Omilteme cottontail reproduction exist. All female rabbits are thought to be induced ovulators, meaning they need stimulation of courtship and copulation to ovulate. Most Sylvilagus species have a gestation length of 28 to 30 days, generally with altricial young. Cottontails construct underground nests that they line with vegetation and shed fur. Breeding is seasonal, even for species living near the equator, generally from March to August. (Hall, 1981; Lumpkin and Seidensticker, 2011; Nowak, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding interval in Omilteme cottontails is not known.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season of Omilteme cottontails is not known, but is likely to be from March to August.

No reports of Omilteme cottontail reproduction exist. Cottontails construct nests, generally underground, lined with vegetation and shed fur and nurse their young until they become independent at about 2 weeks old. Young cottontails are generally born in an altricial state. (Hall, 1981; Lumpkin and Seidensticker, 2011; Nowak, 1999)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

The lifespan of Omilteme cottontails is not documented. It may be assumes that lifespan is similar to the closely related species Mexican cottontails and eastern cottontails, which are short lived. There is a general relationship among body size and longevity, as larger species generally live longer than smaller ones. Assuming this relationship holds, Omilteme cottontails are larger than eastern cottontails, so their lifespan may surpass the average age of eastern cottontails, which is 3 years. Omilteme cottontails are smaller than the larger Mexican cottontails, which live up to 5 years. Most cottontail species do not live past their fifth year in the wild. (Cervantes, et al., 1992; Diersing, 1981; Lumpkin and Seidensticker, 2011; Nelson, 1909)

Behavior

Little is documented about Omilteme cottontail behavior. They are nocturnal and may be active at dusk and dawn as well. Most cottontails are asocial and solitary, only coming together during the breeding season or rare aggregations at feeding sites. (Cervantes, et al., 1992; Lumpkin and Seidensticker, 2011; Nelson, 1904; Nelson, 1909; Nowak, 1999)

Home Range

Nothing is known about the home range of this species. (Cerballos and Navarro, 1991)

Communication and Perception

As with most aspects of its biology, there is little known about specific Omilteme cottontail communication. However, other cottontail species have superb olfactory, hearing, and visual systems. They often emit distress calls, squealing during copulation and grunting if an intruder is in sight. (Cervantes, et al., 1992; Hall, 1981; Lumpkin and Seidensticker, 2011)

Food Habits

Omilteme cottontails are herbivores. They may eat similar foods to the sympatric Mexican cottontails, which eat clumped grasses including Stipa ichu, Muhlenbergia macroura and Festuca amplissima. Preferred vegetation is tender grass shoots, cortices of shrubs, cultivated plants (such as oats, barley and maize) and young leaves of forbes. Omilteme cottontails may prefer slightly different foods, if there is ecological character displacement in these similar, sympatric species. They also engage in coprophagy. (Cervantes, et al., 1992; Diersing and Wilson, 1980; Lumpkin and Seidensticker, 2011; Luna and Bousquets, 1993; Nelson, 1909)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • flowers
  • Other Foods
  • dung

Predation

Humans are the only recorded predators of Omilteme cottontails. Pumas (Puma concolor), jaguars (Panthera onca), gray wolves (Canis lupus), coyotes (Canis latrans) and zone-tailed hawks (Buteo albonotatus) frequent the Sierra Madre del Sur region, and are likely predators of Omilteme cottontails. Like other rabbits, they are cryptically colored and can flee quickly for short distances. (Cervantes, et al., 1992; Chapman and Ceballos, 2013; Monroy-vilchis, 2013; World Wildlife Fund, 2013; cervantes and lorenzo, 1997)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Omilteme cottontails may impact their habitat through the plants they eat. They are also a food source for many predators (Hall 1981; Lumpkin and Seidensticker 2011). (Hall, 1981; Lumpkin and Seidensticker, 2011)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Omilteme cottontails are hunted by humans for their fur and for a food source and are now considered one of the most endangered rabbits in the world.

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative impacts of Omilteme cottontails on humans.

Conservation Status

Omilteme cottontails are extremely rare due to their fragmented habitat and extremely restricted range in Sierra Madre del Sur, Guerrero, Mexico, which is less than 500 square kilometers in size. The last reported sighting of an Omilteme cottontail in the wild was in the early 1900’s; however, there was a possible sighting in 1991. This species was listed as extinct in 1990, endangered in 1994, and critically endangered in 1996. However, they are currently listed under the IUCN Red List Category as endangered, and critically endangered in the Mexican Official Norm, due to the recovery of a skin in 1998. Following the finding of this skin, a survey within the Omilteme cottontail range took place, approximately 52 days, which resulted in no Omilteme cottontail sightings.

Many sources consider the Omilteme cottontail to be extinct. Deforestation of the Omilteme cottontail habitat is seen as the main factor for their endangerment, or possible extinction. Previously, Sierra Madre del Sur was extensively logged, causing wide scale habitat fragmentation. Poaching is also a present concern. Though a natural reserve area, referred to as the Omiltemi State Ecological Park, currently covers the Omilteme cottontail habitat, illegal hunting of the Omilteme cottontail is still a concern. (Cervantes, et al., 1992; Cervantes, et al., 2004; Jimenex, et al., 1993; Nelson, 1904; Nelson, 1909; Romero Malpica and Rangel Cordero, 2013; cervantes and lorenzo, 1997)

Other Comments

Omilteme cottontails are considered the rarest and least understood of rabbits. There are only three museum specimens of this species and the last observation of an Omilteme cottontail was in 1998 by a hunter. The phylogenetic relationships of S. insonus are unknown. Tapeti were once considered to be the closest sister species of S. insonus based on morphology and were put into the subgenus Tapeti. However, they were transferred to the subgenus Sylvilagus after genetic comparison and are now considered to be more closely related to eastern cottontails and Mexican cottontails. As a result of this taxonomic confusion, Omilteme cottontails have been re-classified three times. Originally this species was referred to as Tapeti insonus, then renamed to Lepus insonus and is currently known as Sylvilagus insonus. (Cerballos and Navarro, 1991; Diersing, 1981; Hershkovitz, 1950; Lumpkin and Seidensticker, 2011; Nelson, 1909; Tate, 1993; cervantes and lorenzo, 1997)

Contributors

Christine Quiring (author), University of Manitoba, Jane Waterman (editor), University of Manitoba, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

coprophage

an animal that mainly eats the dung of other animals

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

saltatorial

specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Cerballos, G., D. Navarro. 1991. Diversity and conservation of mexican mammals. Pp. 167-198 in M Mares, D Schmidly, eds. Diversity and Conservation of Mexican Mammals. In: Latin American Mammalogy, Vol. 1, 1 Edition. Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.

Cervantes, F., C. Lorenzo, F. Gonzalex-Cozatl. 2004. The Omilteme rabbit (Sylibilagus insonus) is not extinct. Biology of Mammals, 69: 61-64.

Cervantes, F., C. Lorenzo, J. Vargas, T. Holmes. 1992. Sylvilagus cunicularius. journal of mammology, 412: 1-2.

Chapman, J., G. Ceballos. 2013. "IUCN" (On-line). The cottontails. Accessed October 11, 2013 at www.iucnredlist.org.

Diersing, V. 1981. Systematic status of Sylvilagus brasiliensis and S. insonus from North America. Journal of Mammology, 62: 539-556.

Diersing, V., D. Wilson. 1980. Distribution and systematics of the rabbits (Sylvilagus) of west-central Mexico. Journal of Zoology, 297: 1-34.

Hall, R. 1981. Syvilagus. Pp. 312 in Mammals of North America, Vol. 2, 2 Edition. University of Kansas, New York: John Wiley and Sons Inc.

Hershkovitz, P. 1950. Sylvilagus brasiliensis sanctaemartae. Proceedings of the United States National Museum, 100: 353.

Jimenex, A., I. Paniagua, J. Gomez. 1993. Mamfferos in Historia Natural del Parque Ecologico Estatal Omiltemi, Chilpancingo, Guerrero, Mexico. Mexico City: Comision Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad y Universidad Nacional Autonome de Mexico.

Lumpkin, S., J. Seidensticker. 2011. Rabbits: the animal answer guide. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins University Press.

Luna, V., J. Bousquets. 1993. Historia Natural del Parque Ecologico Estatal Omiltemi, Chilpancingo, Guerrero, Mexico. Mexico City: Comision Nocional para el Comocimiento y Uso de la Biodversidad y Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

Monroy-vilchis, O. 2013. Spatial model of livestock predation by jaguar and puma in Mexico: conservation planning. Biology Conservation, 159: 80-87.

Nelson, E. 1904. Description of seven new rabbits from Mexico. Procedures of Biological Society, 17: 103-110.

Nelson, E. 1909. The rabbits of North America. American Fauna, 29: 9-287.

Nowak, R. 1999. Sylvilagus insonus. Pp. 1045-1046 in E Walker, ed. Walker's Mammals of the World, Vol. 2, 6 Edition. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

Romero Malpica, F., H. Rangel Cordero. 2013. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Sylvilagus insonus. Accessed October 12, 2013 at www.iucnredlist.org.

Tate, G. 1993. Taxonomic History of the Neotropical Hares of the Genus Sylvilagus, subgenus Tapeti. New York City: The American Museum of Natural History.

World Wildlife Fund, (. 2013. "

Sierra Madre Oriental and Occidental pine-oak forests
" (On-line). World Wildlife Fund. Accessed November 11, 2013 at http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/ecoregions/sierramadre_pineoak_forests.cfm.

cervantes, F., C. lorenzo. 1997. Sylvilagus insonus. Spec, 568: 1-4.