Hiking at the foot of South Mountain early in the morning, I see two antelope jackrabbits zigzag across the trail up ahead. White patches of fur flash on their flanks, and their tall ears wave like bulky antennae. Antelope jacks are large, weighing up to 10 pounds and standing two feet tall. If you’re thinking that’s a real big bunny, remember this is a hare, rather than a rabbit. The young are born fully furred, with eyes open, and can run with their parents soon after birth.
The antelope jackrabbit is uniquely adapted to our hot desert climate, thriving in arid conditions. The hare is active from dusk until daylight, and spends the scorching summer days resting in shady hideaways. His enormous ears not only provide warning of approaching predators but also reduce and regulate body heat. Antelope jacks don’t require a fresh water source, making do instead with the moisture found in their veggie diet. The green flush of winter annuals that’s sprouted since November’s rainfall makes for some nice nibbling right now.
The jackrabbit is built for speed and can run 35 mph for up to ½ mile. Large eyes placed near the top of the head allow the animal to see in every direction at once as he continuously scans for danger. Rising up on his hind legs for a look around; the hare freezes when he spots a predator. His dun colored coat blends well with the desert surroundings and if he’s lucky he’ll be overlooked. If the hunter spies him, the jack bounds away with fifteen foot leaps that can propel him over shrubs and boulders.
Despite constant danger from predators such as owls, coyotes, bobcats, rattlesnakes, and human hunters, jackrabbits meet up on moonlit nights, finding safety in numbers as they graze together. Courtship between a jack and jill is an action packed affair, as the two chase and leap over each other. A mated pair will produce one or two babies weighing only a ½ pound at birth. The youngsters stay on with their mothers for several months. The Sonoran desert is also home to the black tailed jackrabbit, but the jackalope is a fictional character.