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snowshoe hare

Lepus americanus

What do they look like?

Snowshoe hares range in length from 413 to 518 mm, of which 39 to 52 mm are tail. The hind foot, long and wide, measures 117 to 147 mm in length. The ears are 62 to 70 mm from base to tip. Snowshoe hares usually weigh between 1.43 and 1.55 kg. Males are slightly smaller than females, as is typical for members of the rabbit family. In the summer, the coat is a rusty or grayish brown, with a blackish line down the middle of the back, buffy sides and a white belly. The face and legs are cinnamon brown. The ears are brownish with black tips and white or creamy borders. During the winter, the fur is almost entirely white, except for black eyelids and the blackened tips on the ears. The bottoms of the feet are covered with thick fur, with stiff hairs (forming the snowshoe) on the hind feet.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    1.43 to 1.55 kg
    3.15 to 3.41 lb
  • Range length
    413 to 518 mm
    16.26 to 20.39 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    6.708 W
    AnAge

Where do they live?

Snowshoe hares are found throughout Canada and in the northernmost United States. The range extends south along the Sierras, Rockies, and Appalachian mountain ranges. (Kurta, 1995; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Snowshoe hares are most often found in open fields, fence rows, swamps, riverside thickets, cedar bogs and low areas with conifers.

How do they reproduce?

Groups of males gather around females who are ready to mate, following the females as they move about their home ranges. Both males and females have multiple mates.

Breeding season for snowshoe hares runs from mid-March through August. Pregnancy lasts 36 days. When labor approaches, female hares become highly aggressive and intolerant of males. They go to a birthing area, where they have prepared an area of packed down grasses. Females give birth to litters of up to 8 young, although the average litter size is usually two to four young. Litters born late in the season tend to be larger than litters born in the spring. Females may have up to four litters a year, depending on enviromental conditions. Males and females become mature within a year of their birth.

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Female snowshoe hares may give birth every month during the breeding season.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season for snowshoe hares runs from mid-March through August.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 7
  • Average number of offspring
    2.82
  • Average number of offspring
    3
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    36 to 40 days
  • Average gestation period
    37.2 days
  • Range weaning age
    14 to 28 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 (high) years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 (high) years

Young snowshoe hares are born fully furred and able to move around. The young hide in separate places during the day, only coming together for 5 to 10 minutes at a time to nurse. The female alone cares for them until they are weaned and ready to go off on their own, about four weeks after they are born.

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • female

How long do they live?

In the wild as much as 85% of snowshoe hares do not live longer than one year. Individuals may live up to 5 years in the wild. (Carey and Judge, 2002; Kurta, 1995)

How do they behave?

Snowshoe hares are typically solitary, but they often live near many other hares, and individuals share overlapping home ranges. They are active at low light levels and so are most often seen out and about at dawn, dusk, and during the night. They are also active on cloudy days.

During the daylight hours, hares spend a great deal of time grooming, and they take occasional naps. They are most active along pathways, trampled down "roads" in the vegetation that the hares know very thoroughly.

Hares like to take dust baths. These help to remove parasites, such as fleas and lice, from the hares' fur.

Snowshoe hares are also good swimmers. They occasionally swim across small lakes and rivers, and they have been seen entering the water in order to avoid predators.

  • Range territory size
    0.03 to 0.07 km^2

Home Range

During its active period, a hare may cover up to 0.02 square kilometers of its 0.03 to 0.07 square kilometer home range.

How do they communicate with each other?

Snowshoe hares have excellent hearing, which helps them to identify approaching predators. They are not particularly vocal animals, but may make loud squealing sounds when captured. When fighting with each other, these animals may hiss and snort. Most communication between hares involves thumping the hind feet against the ground.

What do they eat?

The diet of snowshoe hares is variable. They eat many different kinds of grasses, small leafy plants, and flowers. The new growth of trembling aspen, birches and willows is also eaten. During the winter, snowshoe hares forage on buds, twigs, bark, and evergreens. They have been known to scavenge the remains of their own kind in the winter months. At all times, it is important for hares to eat a certain type of feces that they produce. Because much of the digestion of food occurs in the last portion of their gut, in order to get all of the available nutrients from their food, they must cycle it through their digestive system a second time.

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • flowers
  • Other Foods
  • dung

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Snowshoe hares are experts at escaping predators. Young hares often "freeze" in their tracks when they sense a predator nearby. They are trying to escape notice by blending in with their background. Given the hare's background-matching coloration, this strategy is quite effective. Older hares are more likely to escape predators by fleeing. At top speed, a snowshoe hare can travel up to 27 mile per hour. An adult hare can cover up to 10 feet in a single bound. In addition to high speeds, hares use skillful changes in direction and vertical leaps, which may cause a predator to misjudge the exact position of the animal from one moment to the next.

Important predators of snowshoe hares include gray foxes, red foxes, coyotes, wolves, lynx, bobcats and mink.

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Snowshoe hares are important prey animals in their ecosystem. (Kurta, 1995; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)

Do they cause problems?

Hares may damage trees, especially during periods of high population density. (Kurta, 1995)

How do they interact with us?

Snowshoe hares are used widely as a source of wild meat. In addition to this, they are an important prey species for many predators whose furs are highly valued.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • food

Are they endangered?

Snowshoes hares are common throughout their range. Their rapid reproduction makes it unlikely that they will become a major concern for conservationists. (Kurta, 1995; Wilson and Ruff, 1999)

Some more information...

Snowshoe hares have been widely studied. One of the more interesting things known about hares are the dramatic population cycles that they go through. Population densities can vary from 1 to 10,000 hares per square mile. The amount by which the population changes varies across the geographic range. It is greatest in northwestern Canada, and least in the rocky Mountain region of the United States. These population cycles may be caused by other animals that are in the food chain or by disease outbreaks.

Snowshoe hares are also famous for their seasonal molts. In the summer, the coat of the hare is reddish brown or gray, but during the winter, the coat is snowy white. The molt usually takes about 72 days to reach completion, and it seems to be controlled by the length of the day. Interestingly, there seem to be two entirely different sets of cells in the skin from which white hairs and brown hairs grow.

Contributors

Allison Poor (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Nancy Shefferly (author), Animal Diversity Web.

References

Baker, R.H. 1983. Mammals of Michigan. Michigan State University Press.

Banfield, A.W.F. 1981. The Mammals of Canada. Toronto University Press. Toronto, Buffalo.

Carey, J., D. Judge. 2002. "Longevity Records: Life Spans of Mammals, Birds, Amphibians, Reptiles, and Fish" (On-line). Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. Accessed May 18, 2007 at http://www.demogr.mpg.de/.

Kurta, A. 1995. Mammals of the Great Lakes Region. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Wilson, D., S. Ruff. 1999. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution Press.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Shefferly, N. 2007. "Lepus americanus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed July 23, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Lepus_americanus/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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