Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

Varying hare, Snowshoe rabbit

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Lepus americanus
Population size
Unknown
Life Span
1-5 yrs
TOP SPEED
45 km/h
WEIGHT
1.5 kg
LENGTH
413-518 mm

The Snowshoe hare is a secretive forest-dwelling mammal found only in North America. It has the name "snowshoe" because of the large size of its hind feet. The animal's feet prevent it from sinking into the snow when it hops and walks. Its feet also have fur on the soles to protect it from freezing temperatures. For camouflage, its fur turns white during the winter and rusty brown during the summer. Its flanks are white year-round. The Snowshoe hare is also distinguishable by the black tufts of fur on the edge of its ears. Its ears are shorter than those of most other hares.

Distribution

Snowshoe hares occur from Newfoundland to Alaska; south in the Sierra Nevada to central California; in the Rocky Mountains to southern Utah and northern New Mexico; and in the Appalachian Mountains to North Carolina and Tennessee. They live in boreal forests and upper montane forests and within these forests, Snowshoe hares favor habitats with a dense shrub layer.

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Snowshoe hares are mainly nocturnal and don't hibernate. They are shy and secretive and spend most of the day in shallow depressions, called forms, scraped out under clumps of ferns, brush thickets, and downed piles of timber. They may occasionally use the large burrows of mountain beavers as forms. During the breeding season, they become diurnal and juveniles are usually more active and less cautious than adults. Snowshoe hares are generally solitary but may gather in small groups when feeding. They typically feed at night and follow well-worn forest paths to feed on various plants and trees. They are very cautious and tend to avoid open areas during bright periods of a single night. If feeling threatened Snowshoe hares may freeze hoping to stay undetected due to their camouflaging coloration, or they may flee. They are very fast and agile; they may cover 3 m at a time and can run as fast as 45 km/h (28 mph). Snowshoe hares are also able to swim across small lakes and rivers and may enter the water in order to escape predators.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Snowshoe hares are herbivores (graminivores, folivores). They eat a variety of plant materials such as grass, ferns, and leaves; in winter, they eat buds, twigs, evergreen needles, and bark from trees. Snowshoe hares have even been known to occasionally eat dead animals.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
late December/January to July/August
PREGNANCY DURATION
35-40 days
BABY CARRYING
1-7 leverets
INDEPENDENT AGE
25-28 dats
FEMALE NAME
doe
MALE NAME
buck
BABY NAME
leveret

Snowshoe hares are polygynandrous (promiscuous), when both males and females have multiple mates. Breeding varies with latitude, location, and weather conditions and generally begins in late December to January and lasts until July or August. The gestation period is 35 to 40 days and females can have up to 4 litters per year. Litters average 3 to 5 leverets and may range from 1 to 7. Newborns are fully furred, open-eyed, and mobile. They leave the natal form within a short time after birth, often within 24 hours. After leaving the birthplace, siblings stay near each other during the day, gathering once each evening to nurse. Weaning occurs at 25 to 28 days except for the last litter of the season, which may nurse for two months or longer. Young females normally first breed as 1-year-olds.

Population

Population threats

Habitat loss and climate change are the main threats to Snowshoe hares at present. In some areas of their range, the habitat for some populations has changed dramatically, leaving some habitats without snow for longer periods than previously. Some hares have adapted and stay brown all winter. Others, however, continue to turn white in winter. These hares are at an increased risk of being hunted and killed because they are no longer camouflaged. Many people in the scientific community believe that Snowshoe hare populations are at risk of crashing unless interbreeding speeds up the process of evolution to year-round brown.

Population number

The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Snowshoe hare total population size. Currently, this species is classified as least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Ecological niche

Snowshoe hares are a major prey item for many local predators; these include Canada lynx, bobcats, fishers, American martens, long-tailed weasels, minks, foxes, coyote, domestic dogs, domestic cats, wolves, cougars, owls, hawks, golden eagles, and crows and ravens.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Snowshoe hares usually stay within their home ranges but when food is scarce they may wander up to 5 miles (8 km) away.
  • Snowshoe hares have acute eyesight and often are able to see predators before being seen, and can escape undetected.
  • When Snowshoe hares are escaping a predator, they run in zig-zag patterns that make it quite difficult to catch them.
  • When sensing danger adult Snowshoe hares will often flee to escape predation while baby hares will usually freeze trying to stay undetected because they can't yet move swiftly.
  • The Snowshoe hares' ears are smaller than most hares’; this is because they live in cold environments and don't need big ears that help lower the body temperatures.
  • The fur of the Snowshoe hare is extremely thick and warm and is valued for its high insulation.

References

1. Snowshoe Hare on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowshoe_hare
2. Snowshoe Hare on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/41273/45185466

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