White-sided jackrabbit  Lepus callotis
ESA status: petitioned for listing

White-sided Jackrabbit

The white-sided jackrabbit is a long and lanky grassland dweller of the Chihuahuan Desert region.  It is named for its distinctive white sides, which it “flashes,” possibly to distract predators.

This rarely-seen jackrabbit is found in a limited portion of North America stretching from New Mexico’s bootheel to Oaxaca, Mexico, along the eastern flank of the Sierra Madre Occidental.  In the United States its range is confined to an area of 46.3 square miles in New Mexico’s bootheel, in southern Hidalgo County. 

It’s rarely seen in the U.S., in part because there are fewer than 100 left, down from over 300 in the late 1970s.  It is likely gone altogether from one of the valleys it used to inhabit (the Playas Valley) and hangs on in just a single, confined area in the Animas Valley.  The white-sided jackrabbit is almost exclusively nocturnal, hiding in stands of grass by day to avoid its predators.  The jackrabbits don’t lack for company, however.  Male and female jackrabbits usually travel together in pairs and rarely separate, even after breeding. The jackrabbit has a pretty consistent meal plan – 99 percent of its diet is grass.  But it has one trick to vary its diet; it is the only jackrabbit known to use its front paws to dig up the bulbous tubers of nutgrass for a snack. This “handsome hare” (as Aldo Leopold described it) is an indicator of grassland health, as it needs pure stands of grass.  Lacking this habitat it disappears, replaced by the black-tailed jackrabbit, which does better than its cousin in degraded grasslands.  And degraded grasslands are not in short supply, due to a combination of livestock grazing, drought, climate change, and other factors.  An increasing threat in the U.S. is road mortality due to collisions with Border Patrol vehicles. One scientist has warned that this threat alone could cause the species to vanish from the U.S.

Overall, its distribution and abundance in the United States has steeply declined.  Researchers in Mexico estimate that the white-sided jackrabbit will lose some 60 percent of its range by 2050, thanks to climate change. Despite this bleak picture, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) refused to list the white-sided jackrabbit under the Endangered Species Act.  WildEarth Guardians is challenging refusal of the FWS to protect this imperiled jackrabbit and will continue to fight for its survival.

WildEarth Guardians celebrates Easter by raising awareness of imperilled bunnies and birds.  See the range of the white-sided jackrabbit and other creatures of springtime on this map.

photo credit:  Cesar Mendez