|Eastern cottontail, well camouflaged against summer-browned grass.|
|Eastern cottontail on green lawn, Click on photos to enlarge.|
|A rabbit in possession of all of its feet.|
Not in the newspaper column:
The proverb means cut the head and tail (and feet) off a cat and you've got a rabbit. Famines and sieges have often led to people eating dogs, cats and rats; cats eaten often enough that during World War II there was a slang term, "roof rabbits," or in German, "dachhasen." During the 1870-71 siege of Paris, the residents consumed all the horses in the city, then dogs, cats, what rats they could catch, and finally the zoo animals, finishing with a pair of elephants.
On a different note, why do rabbits have white tails? There is an interesting theory that having a conspicuously visible tail can help with evading predators. For some species - birds especially - a colorful tail on the male birds improves their mating success. Peacocks are an extreme example. This is not true for rabbits - both sexes have white tails and tail display not involved in courting nor in male-to-male competition for territory or mating rights.
The key to the answer appears to be that when rabbits flee a predator such as a fox or coyote they are frequently changing directions. Visually focusing on the white tail may cause the close-following predator to guess wrong on which way the rabbit is turning, because the white of the tail lags behind which way the front of the body turned. The same probably applies to white-tail deer escaping from pursuing mountain lions, although deer also use tail raising to alert other deer in a group of possible danger. One way of testing the theory on rabbits would be to trap all rabbits in one area and apply hair dye to half. Then, in the fall re-trap rabbits and see which half had better survival.