Lepus townsendii


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Lepus townsendii
Species Authority: Bachman, 1839
Common Name(s):
English White-tailed Jackrabbit
Taxonomic Notes: There are currently two recognized subspecies, Lepus townsendii campanius and L. t. townsendii (Hall 1981, Hoffmann and Smith 2005).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Smith, A.T. & Johnston, C.H.
Reviewer(s): Boyer, A.F. & Johnston, C.H. (Lagomorph Red List Authority)
Lepus townsendii is a widespread species. Population status across its entire distribution is not currently known, but declines have been observed in Wyoming (Berger et al. 2006). It is unlikely that this species is declining at nearly the rate required to qualify for listing in a threatened category.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Lepus townsendii has a wide geographic distribution. Its current distribution extends across the southern regions of Canada, including south-central British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, southwestern Manitoba and the extreme southwest of Ontario (Flux and Angermann 1990). The distribution within the USA includes: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois (Flux and Angermann 1990). This distribution represents an expansion from its historical distribution, which resulted from the creation of suitable habitat (see reference for map) (Lim 1987). There is some debate to whether this species was introduced to Wisconsin (Lim 1987). Some treatments indicate that this species has been extirpated from Nebraska and Kansas, and recent distribution maps exclude Missouri (Flinders and Chapman 2003). L. townsendii is excluded from some areas of its range resulting from the expansion of L. californicus (Lim 1987). This species was recorded at an elevation of 4,319 m on Mt. Bross, Colorado (Lim 1987). Its lower limit is recorded as 30 m on the Columbian plains (Lim 1987).
Canada (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan); United States (California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin - Present - Origin Uncertain, Wyoming)
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Sightings of L. townsendii have declined in Grand Teton National Park since 1970, from sightings characterized as "numerous" and "common" to only three individuals since 1978 (Berger et al. 2006). This may represent a satellite population, resulting from the continuous distribution within the Gros Ventre River corridor that leads to the Upper Green River Basin (Berger et al. 2006). In Yellowstone National Park, where the species was once considered abundant, no sightings have been confirmed since the 1990's (Berger 2008). Cause(s) for extirpation from both parks is currently unknown (Berger 2006; Berger 2008).
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: The primary habitat of Lepus townsendii is open prairie and plains, but will vary with locality (Flux and Angermann 1990). They are also found on montane pastures among scattered evergreens to 3,100 m altitude in Colorado (Flux and Angermann 1990). Diet of this species is predominantly grasses and forbs, with shrubs during the winter (Lim 1987). The total length of L. townsendii is 56.5 - 65.5 cm (Hall and Kelson 1959). The breeding season was recorded to extend from late February through mid-July in North Dakota (Flux and Angermann 1990). A similar breeding season was recorded in Wyoming (Rogowitz 1992). The season is shortened in the northern extent of its range to May through early July (Lim 1987). The gestation period is variable; one account sets it as low as one month and another as high as 43 days (Lim 1987). It is thought that elevation and latitude may influence total gestation time (Lim 1987). Breeding conditions and environmental factors influence the total number of litters produced each year (Lim 1987). Common litter size is recorded as four to five young, with total litters per year ranging from one to 11 (Bear and Hansen 1966). Longevity is unknown but speculated to be up to five years (Forsyth 1999).
Systems: Terrestrial

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is hunted for sport and their fur is sold to fur buyers and mink ranchers (Flux and Angermann 1990).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): There are numerous hypothesized factors contributing to the decline of Lepus townsendii in Wyoming (Berger et al. 2006). These are listed as "inclement weather (e.g., severe winter), disease, predation, human persecution, habitat change, high ungulate biomass, and change" (Berger et al. 2006). Habitat alteration has led to the exclusion of L. townsendii where the distribution expansion of L. californicus has occurred (Lim 1987).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Research should be conducted to ascertain the ecological role of this species within the sage steppe ecosystem (Berger et al. 2006). Furthermore, efforts should be made to determine the "life-history, demography, and predator-prey relationship" (Berger et al. 2006). It is also recommended that this species be removed from the 'varmint' list produced by the State of Wyoming (Berger et al. 2006). More data are needed to understand the factors that operate when L. californicus and L. townsendii occur sympatrically (Flinders and Chapman 2003).

Citation: Smith, A.T. & Johnston, C.H. 2008. Lepus townsendii. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <>. Downloaded on 22 December 2014.
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