Snowshoe Hare

Their appearance helps these hares to blend into the landscape, and they can also sprint at speeds of up to 43 kph (27 mph) to escape predators.

Like most hares, snowshoe hares do not dig burrows. Instead they shelter in shallow depressions called forms, which they scrape in soil or snow. Snowshoe hares are generally nocturnal, and rest in secluded forms or under logs during the day. When dusk arrives, the hares follow systems of runways through the dense forest undergrowth to feeding sites. They maintain these runways by biting away branches that block the way and compacting the winter snow.

In summer, snowshoe hares nibble on grasses and other green plant material. They survive the long winter by supplementing their diet with buds, twigs and bark. The population of these hares undergoes distinctive cyclical fluctuations. Over several years, the overall population of snowshoe hares can rise and fall dramatically. Their numbers build up over the course of a decade, as do those of their predators (such as the snowy owl), before suddenly crashing. At the low points there may be only two animals per square kilometre. At the peak there may be as many as 1,300 in the same area.

In summer, the snowshoe hare's fur is a rusty or greyish-brown, but in areas with heavy winter snow the fur is white as a camouflage against predators.

Snowshoe hares are more social than other hares. During the spring breeding season, the male hares compete with each other to establish hierarchies and gain access to mates. Conflicts often result in boxing fights - hence "mad March hares". Unlike many of their relatives, their young are born fully developed, with their eyes open, and they can run almost immediately. Females may mate again the day after giving birth.

Distribution: Across northern North America (with its southerly range extending to California and New Mexico), around the Great Lakes and reaching North Carolina in the east.

Weight: 0.9 - 1.8 kg (2 - 4 lb).

Length: 41 - 51 cm (16 - 20 in).

Maturity: 1 year.

Gestation Period: 36 - 40 days; breeds from mid-March to August.

Breeding: 1 - 7, typically 3; weaning occurs by 28 days; females may have up to 4 litters per year.

Diet: Herbivorous, eating grass, herbs and bark.

Lifespan: Up to 5 years, although many die in their first year.

Fur colour

The winter coat is white, but the tips of the ears may be dark.

Eyes

It is hard to approach a snowshoe hare without being noticed, as they have a wide field of vision.

Moulting

This occurs twice a year, and is triggered by changes in day length.

Hind feet

Large and well-covered by fur, these enable the hare to run easily over the snow.

DANGEROUS LIVING

Snowshoe hares face many predators, but they can run and jump well, covering up to 3 m (10 ft) at a single bound.

Gallery of Snowshoe Hare