OBJECTIVE: The New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis) is a species of high conservation priority in the Northeastern United States, and was a candidate for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act until a recent decision determined that conservation actions were sufficient to preclude listing. The aim of this study was to develop a suite of microsatellite loci to guide future research efforts such as the analysis of population genetic structure, genetic variation, dispersal, and genetic mark-recapture population estimation. RESULTS: Thirty-five microsatellite markers containing tri- and tetranucleotide sequences were developed from shotgun genomic sequencing of tissue from S. transitionalis, S. obscurus, and S. floridanus. These loci were screened in n = 33 wild S. transitionalis sampled from a population in eastern Massachusetts, USA. Thirty-two of the 35 loci were polymorphic with 2-6 alleles, and observed heterozygosities of 0.06-0.82. All loci conformed to Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium proportions and there was no evidence of linkage disequilibrium or null alleles. Primers for 33 of the 35 loci amplified DNA extracted from n = 6 eastern cottontail (S. floridanus) samples, of which nine revealed putative species-diagnostic alleles. These loci will provide a useful tool for conservation genetics investigations of S. transitionalis and a potential diagnostic species assay for differentiating sympatric eastern and New England cottontails.