Rabbits cannot see what is right in front, and slightly below, their nose. There are three species of hares native to California: the Black-tailed, the White-tailed and the Snowshoe hare. Some have shorter legs to make them slower on land.
The black-tailed jackrabbit
), also known as the American desert hare
, is a common hare of the western United States and Mexico, where it is found at elevations from sea level to up to 10,000 feet (3,000 m). Reaching a length of about 2 feet (61 cm), and a weight from 3 to 6 pounds (1.4 to 2.7 kg), the black-tailed jackrabbit is the third largest North American hare, after the antelope jackrabbit and the white-tailed jackrabbit. The black-tailed jackrabbits occupy mixed shrub-grassland terrains. Their breeding depends on the location; it typically peaks in spring, but may continue all year round in warm climates. Young are born fully furred with eyes open; they are well camouflaged and are mobile within minutes of birth, thus females do not protect or even stay with the young except during nursing. The average litter size is around four, but may be as low as two and as high as seven in warm regions.
The black-tailed jackrabbit does not migrate or hibernate during winter and uses the same habitat of 0.4 to 1.2 square miles (1–3 km2) year-round. Its diet is composed of various shrubs, small trees, grasses and forbs. Shrubs generally comprise the bulk of fall and winter diets, while grasses and forbs are used in spring and early summer, but the pattern and plant species vary with climate. Black-tailed jackrabbit is an important prey species for raptors and carnivorous mammals, such as eagles, hawks, owls, coyotes, foxes, and wild cats. The rabbits host many ectoparasites including fleas, ticks, lice, and mites; for this reason, hunters often avoid collecting them.
Like other jackrabbits, the blacktail has distinctive long ears, and the long, powerful rear legs characteristic of hares. Reaching a length of about 2 feet (61 cm), and a weight from 3 to 6 pounds (1.4 to 2.7 kg), the black-tailed jackrabbit is the third largest North American hare, after the antelope jackrabbit and the white-tailed jackrabbit. The black-tailed jackrabbit's dorsal fur is agouti (dark buff peppered with black), and its undersides and the insides of its legs are creamy white. The ears are black-tipped on the outer surface, and unpigmented inside. The ventral surface of the tail is grey to white, and the black dorsal surface of the tail continues up the spine for a few inches to form a short, black stripe. The females are larger than males, with no other significant differences.
Although seventeen subspecies are recognized, this number may be excessive. Using cluster analysis of anatomical characters, Dixon and others found that black-tailed jackrabbit subspecies separated into two distinct groups that are geographically separated west and east of the Colorado Rocky Mountains and the Colorado River. They suggested only two infrataxa are warranted: the western subspecies L. c. californicus
and the eastern subspecies L. c. texianus
Black-tailed jackrabbit is the most widely distributed jackrabbit (Lepus
spp.) in North America. Native black-tailed jackrabbit populations occur from central Washington east to Missouri and south to Baja California Sur and Zacatecas. Black-tailed jackrabbit distribution is currently expanding eastward in the Great Plains at the expense of white-tailed jackrabbit. Black-tailed jackrabbit has been successfully introduced in southern Florida and along the coastline in Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia.
Distribution of subspecies occurring entirely or partially in the United States is as follows:
The black-tailed jackrabbit occupies plant communities with a mixture of shrubs, grasses, and forbs. Shrubland-herb mosaics are preferred over pure stands of shrubs or herbs. Black-tailed jackrabbit is common in sagebrush (Artemisia
spp.), creosotebush (Larrea tridentata
), and other desert shrublands; palouse, shortgrass, and mixed-grass prairies; desert grassland; open-canopy chaparral; oak (Quercus
spp.) and pinyon-juniper (Pinus-Juniperus
spp.) woodlands; and early seral (succeeding each other), low- to mid-elevation coniferous forests. It is also common in and near croplands, especially alfalfa (Medicago sativa
Male black-tailed jackrabbit reach sexual maturity at about 7 months of age. Females usually breed in the spring of their second year, although females born in spring or early summer may breed in their first year. Ovulation is induced by copulation. The breeding season is variable depending upon latitude and environmental factors. In the northern part of its range in Idaho, black-tailed jackrabbit breeds from February through May. In Utah, black-tailed jackrabbit breed from January through July, with over 75% of females pregnant by April. The Kansas breeding season extends from January to August. Breeding in warm climates continues nearly year-round. Two peak breeding seasons corresponding to rainfall patterns and growth of young vegetation occur in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. In Arizona, for example, breeding peaks during winter (January–March) rains and again during June monsoons.
The gestation period ranges from 41 to 47 days. More litters are born in warm climates: the number of litters born each year ranges from two per year in Idaho to seven in Arizona. Litter sizes are largest in the northern portions of black-tailed jackrabbit's range and decrease toward the south. Average litter size has been reported at 4.9 in Idaho, 3.8 in Utah, and 2.2 in Arizona.
Female black-tailed jackrabbit do not prepare an elaborate nest. They give birth in shallow excavations called forms
that are no more than a few centimeters deep. Females may line forms with hair prior to giving birth, but some drop litters in existing depressions on the ground with no further preparation. Young are borne fully furred with eyes open, and are mobile within minutes of birth. Females do not protect or even stay with the young except during nursing. Ages of weaning and dispersal are unclear since the young are well camouflaged and rarely observed in the field. Captive black-tailed jackrabbit are fully weaned by 8 weeks. The young stay together for at least a week after leaving the form.
The black-tailed jackrabbit can occupy a wide range of habitats as long as there is diversity in plant species. It requires mixed grasses, forbs, and shrubs for food, and shrubs or small trees for cover. It prefers moderately open areas without dense understory growth and is seldom found in closed-canopy habitats. For example, in California, black-tailed jackrabbit is plentiful in open chamise (Ademostoma fasciculatum
Ceanothus spp.) chaparral interspersed with grasses, but does not occupy closed-canopy chaparral. Similarly, black-tailed jackrabbit occupies clearcuts and early seral coniferous forest, but not closed-canopy coniferous forest.
Black-tailed jackrabbit does not migrate or hibernate during winter; the same habitat is used year-round. There is diurnal movement of 2 to 10 miles (3–16 km) from shrub cover in day to open foraging areas at night. Home range area varies with habitat and habitat quality. Home ranges of 0.4 to 1.2 square miles (1–3 km2) have been reported in big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata
) and black greasewood (Sarcobatus vermiculatus
) communities of northern Utah.
Black-tailed jackrabbit require shrubs or small conifers for hiding, nesting, and thermal cover, and grassy areas for night feeding. A shrub-grassland mosaic or widely spaced shrubs interspersed with herbs provides hiding cover while providing feeding opportunities. Small shrubs do not provide adequate cover. In the Snake River Birds of Prey Study Area in southwestern Idaho, black-tailed jackrabbit was more frequent on sites dominated by big sagebrush or black greasewood than on sites dominated by the smaller shrubs winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata
) or shadscale (Atriplex confertifolia
). Black-tailed jackrabbit does not habitually use a burrow, although it has occasionally been observed using abandoned burrows for escape and thermal cover.
The black-tailed jackrabbit diet is composed of shrubs, small trees, grasses, and forbs. Throughout the course of a year, black-tailed jackrabbit feed on most if not all of the important plant species in a community. Growth stage and moisture content of plants may influence selection more than species. Shrubs generally comprise the bulk of fall and winter diets, while grasses and forbs are used in spring and early summer. This pattern varies with climate: herbaceous plants are grazed during greenup periods while the plants are in prereproductive to early reproductive stages, and shrubs are utilized more in dry seasons. Shrubs are browsed throughout the year, however. Most of a jackrabbit's (Lepus
spp.) body water is replaced by foraging water-rich vegetation. Jackrabbit require a plant's water weight to be at least five times its dry weight in order to meet daily water intake requirements. Therefore, black-tailed jackrabbits switch to phreatophyte (deep-rooted) shrubs when herbaceous vegetation is recovering from their foraging.
Plant species used by black-tailed jackrabbit are well documented for desert regions. Forage use in other regions is less well known. However, black-tailed jackrabbit browse Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii
), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa
), lodgepole pine (P. contorta
), and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla
) seedlings, and oak (Quercus
spp.) seedlings and sprouts.
In Great Basin, big sagebrush is a primary forage species and is used throughout the year; in southern Idaho it forms 16–21% of the black-tailed jackrabbit summer diet. Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus
spp.), spiny hopsage (Gray spinosa
), and black greasewood are also browsed. Four-wing saltbush (Atriplex canescens
) is heavily used in western Nevada. In Butte County, Idaho, winterfat comprises 41% of black-tailed jackrabbits' annual diet. Grasses comprise 14% of the diet, with most grass consumption in March and April. Russian thistle (Salsola kali
) is an important forb diet item. Needle-and-thread grass (Stipa comata
) and Indian ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides
) are preferred grasses. Other preferred native grasses include Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda
) and bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata
). Where available, crested wheatgrass (Agropyron desertorum
and Agropyron cristatum
) and barley (Hordeum vulgare
) are highly preferred. Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum
) use is variable: it comprises 45% of the April diet on two southern Idaho sites, but black-tailed jackrabbit on an eastern Washington site do not use it.
In warm desert, mesquite (Prosopis
spp.) and creosotebush (Larrea tridentata
) are principle browse species. Broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae
) and Yucca
spp. are also used. In honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa var. glandulosa
) communities in New Mexico, overall black-tailed jackrabbit diet was 47% shrubs, 22% grasses, and 31% forbs. Black grama (Bouteloua
spp.), dropseed (Sporobolus
spp.), fluffgrass (Erioneuron pulchellum
), and threeawns (Aristida
spp.) are the most commonly grazed grasses. Leather croton (Croton pottsii
), silverleaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium
), desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata
), wooly paperflower (Psilostrophe tagetina
), and globemallow (Sphaeralcea
spp.) are important forbs, although many forb species are grazed. Opuntia
spp., saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea
), and other cacti are used throughout the year but are especially important in dry seasons as a source of moisture.
Black-tailed jackrabbit is an important prey species for many raptors and carnivorous mammals. The black-tailed jackrabbit and Townsend's ground squirrel (Spermophilus townsendii
) are the two most important prey species on the Snake River Birds of Prey Study Area. Hawks preying on black-tailed jackrabbit include the ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis
), white-tailed hawk (Buteo albicaudatus
), Swainson's hawk (B. swainsoni
), and red-tailed hawk (B. jamaicensis
). The black-tailed jackrabbit is the primary prey of Swainson's, red-tailed, and ferruginous hawks on Idaho and Utah sites. Other raptors consuming black-tailed jackrabbit include the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus
), burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia
), golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos
), and bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus
). There is a significant correlation between golden eagle production and black-tailed jackrabbit productivity. In Colorado and southeastern Wyoming, black-tailed jackrabbit constitute 9% of nesting bald eagles' diet. Jackrabbits (Lepus
spp.) and cottontails (Sylvilagus
spp.) combined form 9% of the diet of bald eagles wintering on National Forests in Arizona and New Mexico.
Mammalian predators include coyote (Canis latrans
), domestic dog (C. familiaris
), red fox (Vulpes vulpes
), common gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus
), American badger (Taxidea taxus
), mountain lion (Felis concolor
), housecat (F. catus
), and bobcat (Lynx rufus
). In many areas, black-tailed jackrabbit is the primary item in coyote diets. It is locally and regionally important to other mammalian predators. One study found that jackrabbits (Lepus
spp.) made up 45% of the bobcat diet in Utah and Nevada. Another Utah–Nevada study found that jackrabbits were the fourth most commonly consumed prey of mountain lion.
spp.) and garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis
) prey on black-tailed jackrabbit young. Raccoons (Procyon lotor
) and striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis
) may also capture young.
The black-tailed jackrabbit plays host to many ectoparasites including fleas, ticks, lice, and mites, and many endoparasites including trematodes, cestodes, nematodes, and botfly (Cutereba
) larvae. Diseases affecting the black-tailed jackrabbit in the West are tularemia, equine encephalitis, brucellosis, Q fever, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Ticks are vectors for tularemia, and infected ticks have been found on jackrabbits in the West. Jackrabbits infected with tuleremia die very quickly.
The high prevalence of disease and parasites in wild jackrabbits affects human predation. Many hunters will not collect the jackrabbits they shoot, and those who do are well advised to wear gloves while handling carcasses and to cook the meat thoroughly to avoid contracting tularemia. Most hunting of jackrabbits is done for pest control or sport.
This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of Agriculture document "Lepus californicus".
The white-tailed jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii), also known as the prairie hare and the white jack, is a hare found in western North America. Briefly reputed to have been extirpated, it is now clear from observations, roadkilled specimens and historical records that white-tailed jackrabbits are extant in Yellowstone National Park. This animal, like all hares and rabbits, is a member of family Leporidae of order Lagomorpha. This jackrabbit has two described subspecies: L. townsendii townsendii and L. townsendii campanius.
The snowshoe hare
), also called the varying hare
, or snowshoe rabbit
, is a species of hare found in North America. It has the name "snowshoe" because of the large size of its hind feet and the marks its tail leaves. 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.
In summer, it feeds on plants such as, grass, ferns and leaves; in winter, it eats twigs, the bark from trees, and buds from flowers and plants and, similar to the Arctic hare, has been known to steal meat from baited traps. Hares are carnivorous under the availability of dead animals, and have been known to eat dead rodents such as mice due to low availability of protein in an herbivorous diet. It can sometimes be seen feeding in small groups. This animal is mainly active at night and does not hibernate.
The snowshoe hare may have up to four litters in a year which average three to eight young. Males compete for females, and females may breed with several males.
Snowshoe hares occur from Newfoundland east to western 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. Locations of subspecies are as follows:
Snowshoe hares are primarily found in boreal forests and upper montane forests; within these forests, they favor habitats with a dense shrub layer. In the Pacific Northwest, snowshoe hares occupy diverse habitats, including mature conifers (mostly Douglas-fir [Pseudotsuga menziesii
] and variants), immature conifers, alder (Alnus
spp.)/salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis
), Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis
)/salal (Gaultheria shallon
), and cedar (Thuja
spp.) swamps. In western Oregon, snowshoe hares were present in brush patches of vine maple (Acer circinatum
), willows (Salix
spp.), rhododendrons (Rhododendron
spp.), and other shrubs.
In Utah, snowshoe hares used Gambel oak (Quercus gambelli
) in the northern portion of the Gambel oak range. In the Southwest, the southernmost populations of snowshoe hares occur in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico, in subalpine scrub: narrow bands of shrubby and prostrate conifers at and just below timberline that are usually composed of Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii
), bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata
), limber pine (P. flexilis
), and/or common juniper (Juniperus communis
In Minnesota, snowshoe hares use jack pine (P. banksiana
) uplands, edges, tamarack (Larix laricina
) bogs, black spruce (Picea mariana
) bogs, and sedge (Carex
spp.), alder, and scrub fens. In New England, snowshoe hares favor second-growth aspen (Populus
spp.) near conifers, but other forest types occupied by snowshoe hares include aspens, paper birch (B. papyrifera
), northern hardwoods, red maple (A. rubrum
), balsam fir (Abies balsamea
), red spruce (Picea rubens
)-balsam fir, eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis
), northern red oak (Quercus rubra
), oak (Quercus
spp.), eastern white pine (P. strobus
)-northern red oak-red maple, and eastern white pine. Snowshoe hares also use shrub swamps dominated by buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis
), alders, and silky dogwood (Cornus ammomum
). Further details on plant communities used by snowshoe hares in different regions are in Bittner and Rongstad.
Snowshoe hares are crepuscular to nocturnal. 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 occasionally use the large burrows of mountain beavers (Aplodontia rufa
) as forms. Diurnal activity level increases during the breeding season. Juveniles are usually more active and less cautious than adults.
Snowshoe hares are active year-round. The breeding season for hares is stimulated by new vegetation and varies with latitude, location, and yearly events (such as weather conditions and phase of snowshoe hare population cycle). Breeding generally begins in late December to January and lasts until July or August . In northwestern Oregon, male peak breeding activity (as determined by testes weight) occurs in May and is at the minimum in November. In Ontario, the peak is in May and in Newfoundland, the peak is in June. Female estrus begins in March in Newfoundland, Alberta, and Maine, and in early April in Michigan and Colorado. First litters of the year are born from mid-April to May.
The gestation period is 35 to 40 days; most studies report 37 days as the average length of gestation. Litters average three to five leverets depending on latitude, elevation, and phase of population cycle, ranging from one to seven. Deep snowpack increases the amount of upper-branch browse available to snowshoe hares in winter, and therefore has a positive relationship with the nutritional status of breeding adults. Litters are usually smaller in the southern sections of their range since there is less snow. 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.
Female snowshoe hares can become pregnant anytime after the 35th day of gestation. The second litter can therefore be conceived before the first litter is born (snowshoe hares have twin uteri). Pregnancy rates ranged from 78 to 100% for females during the period of first litter production, 82 to 100% for second litters, and for the periods of third and fourth litters pregnancy rates vary with population cycle. In Newfoundland, the average number of litters per female per year ranged from 2.9 to 3.5, and in Alberta the range was from 2.7 to 3.3. The number of litters per year varies with phase of population cycle (see below). In Alberta the average number of litters per year was almost 3 just after a population peak and 4 just after the population low. Females normally first breed as 1-year-olds. Juvenile breeding is rare and has only been observed in females from the first litter of the year and only in years immediately following a low point in the population cycle.
In Yukon Territory, 30-day survival of radio-tagged leverets was 46%, 15%, and 43% for the first, second, and third litters of the year, respectively. There were no differences in mortality in plots with food added. The main proximate cause of mortality was predation by small mammals, including red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus
) and arctic ground squirrels (Spermophilus parryii
). Littermates tended to live or die together more often than by chance. Individual survival was negatively related to litter size and positively related to body size at birth. Litter size is negatively correlated with body size at birth.
Northern populations of snowshoe hares undergo cycles that range from seven to 17 years between population peaks. The average time between peaks is approximately 10 years. The period of abundance usually lasts for two to five years, followed by a population decline to lower numbers or local scarcity. Areas of great abundance tend to be scattered. Populations do not peak simultaneously in all areas, although a great deal of synchronicity occurs in northern latitudes. From 1931 to 1948, the cycle was synchronized within one or two years over most of Canada and Alaska, despite differences in predators and food supplies. In central Alberta, low snowshoe hare density occurred in 1965, with 42 to 74 snowshoe hares per 100 acres (40 ha). The population peak occurred in November 1970 with 2,830 to 5,660 snowshoe hares per 100 acres (40 ha). In the southern parts of its range, snowshoe hare populations do not fluctuate radically.
Exclosure experiments in Alberta indicated browsing by snowshoe hares during population peaks has the greatest impact on palatable species, thus further reducing the amount of available foods. In this study, insufficient nutritious young browse was available to sustain the number of snowshoe hares present in the peak years (1971 and 1972) in winter.
Major variables in habitat quality include average visual obstruction and browse biomass. Snowshoe hares prefer young forests with abundant understories. The presence of cover is the primary determinant of habitat quality, and is more significant than food availability or species composition. Species composition does, however, influence population density; dense softwood understories support greater snowshoe hare density than hardwoods because of cover quality. In Maine, female snowshoe hares were observed to be more common on sites with less cover but more nutritious forage; males tended to be found on sites with heavier cover.
Winter browse availability depends on height of understory brush and winter snow depth; 6-to-8-foot-tall (1.8 to 2.4 m) saplings with narrow stem diameters are required for winter browse in heavy snow.
In northern regions, snowshoe hares occupy conifer and mixed forests in all stages of succession, but early successional forests foster peak abundance. Deciduous forests are usually occupied only in early stages of succession. In New England, snowshoe hares preferred second-growth deciduous, coniferous, and mixed woods with dense brushy understories; they appear to prefer shrubby old-field areas, early- to mid-successional burns, shrub-swamps, bogs, and upper montane krumholz vegetation. In Maine, snowshoe hares were more active in clearcut areas than in partially cut or uncut areas. Sapling densities were highest on 12- to 15-year-old plots; these plots were used more than younger stands. In northern Utah, they occupied all the later stages of succession on quaking aspen and spruce-fir, but were not observed in meadows. In Alberta, snowshoe hares use upland shrub-sapling stages of regenerating aspens (either postfire or postharvest). In British Columbia overstocked juvenile lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta
) stands formed optimal snowshoe hare habitat.
In western Washington, most unburned, burned, or scarified clearcuts will normally be fully occupied by snowshoe hares within four to five years, as vegetation becomes dense. In older stands (more than 25 years), stem density begins to decline and cover for snowshoe hares decreases. However, in north-central Washington, they may not colonize clearcuts until six or seven years, and it may take 20 to 25 years for their density to reach maximum. Winter snowshoe hare pellet counts were highest in 20-year-old lodgepole pine stands, lower in older lodgepole stands, and lowest in spruce-dominated stands. In western Oregon, snowshoe hares were abundant only in early successional stages, including stable brushfields. In west-central Oregon, an old-growth Douglas-fir forest was clearcut and monitored through 10 years of succession. A few snowshoe hares were noted in adjacent virgin forest plots; they represented widely scattered, sparse populations. One snowshoe hare was observed on the disturbed plot 2.5 years after it had been clearcut and burned; at this stage, ground cover was similar to that of the uncut forest. By 9 years after disturbance, snowshoe hare density had increased markedly.
In western Washington, snowshoe hares routinely used steep slopes where cover was adequate; most studies, however, suggest they tend to prefer gentle slopes. Moonlight increases snowshoe hare vulnerability to predation, particularly in winter. They tend to avoid open areas during bright phases of the moon and during bright periods of a single night. Their activity usually shifts from coniferous understories in winter to hardwood understories in summer.
Vegetative structure plays an important role in the size of snowshoe hare home ranges. Snowshoe hares wander up to 5 miles (8 km) when food is scarce. In Montana home ranges are smaller in brushy woods than in open woods. In Colorado and Utah, the average home range of both sexes was 20 acres (8.1 ha). On Montreal Island of Quebec, the average daily range for both sexes was 4 acres (1.6 ha) in old-field mixed woods. In Montana, the home range averaged 25 acres (10 ha) for males and 19 acres (7.6 ha) for females. In Oregon the average snowshoe hare home range was 14.6 acres (5.9 ha).
Snowshoe hares require dense, brushy, usually coniferous cover; thermal and escape cover are especially important for young hares. Low brush provides hiding, escape, and thermal cover. Heavy cover 10 feet (3 m) above ground provides protection from avian predators, and heavy cover 3.3 feet (1 m) tall provides cover from terrestrial predators. Overwinter survival increases with increased cover. A wide variety of habitat types are used if cover is available. Base visibility in good snowshoe hare habitat ranges from 2% at 16.5 feet (5 m) distance to 0% at 66 feet (20 m). Travel cover is slightly more open, ranging from 14.7% visibility at 16.5 feet (5 m) to 2.6% at 66 feet (20 m). Areas with horizontal vegetation density of 40 to 100% at 50 feet (15 m) are adequate snowshoe hare habitat in Utah.
Snowshoe hares eat a variety of plant materials. Forage type varies with season. Succulent green vegetation is consumed when available from spring to fall; after the first frost, buds, twigs, evergreen needles, and bark form the bulk of snowshoe hare diets until spring greenup. Snowshoe hares typically feed at night and follow well-worn forest paths to feed on various plants and trees.
Snowshoe hares prefer branches, twigs, and small stems up to 0.25 inch (6.3 mm) diameter; larger stems are sometimes used in winter. In Yukon Territory, they normally eat fast-growing birches and willows, and avoid spruce. At high densities, however, the apical shoots of small spruce are eaten. The snowshoe hare winter diet is dominated by bog birch (Betula glandulosa
), which is preferred but not always available. Greyleaf willow (Salix glauca
) is eaten most often when bog birch is not available. Buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis
) is the fourth most common diet item. White spruce (Picea glauca
) is eaten, but not preferred. In Alaska, spruce, willows, and alders comprise 75% of snowshoe hare diets; spruce needles make up nearly 40% of the diet. In northwestern Oregon, winter foods include needles and tender bark of Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir, and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla
); leaves and green twigs of salal; buds, twigs, and bark of willows; and green herbs. In north-central Washington, willows and birches are not plentiful; snowshoe hares browse the tips of lodgepole pine seedlings. In Utah, winter foods include Douglas-fir, willows, snowberry (Symphoricarpos
spp.), maples, and serviceberry (Amelanchier
spp.). In Minnesota, aspens, willows, hazelnut (Corylus
spp.), ferns (Pteridophyta
spp.), birches, alders, sumacs (Rhus
spp.), and strawberries (Fragaria
spp.) are winter foods. Winter foods in New York include eastern white pine, red pine (Pinus resinosa
), white spruce, paper birch, and aspens. In Ontario, sugar maple (Acer saccharum
), striped maple (A. pensylvanicum
), red maple, other deciduous species, northern white-cedar (T. occidentalis
), balsam fir, beaked hazelnut (C. cornuta
), and buffaloberry were heavily barked. In New Brunswick, snowshoe hares consumed northern white-cedar, spruces, American beech (Fagus grandifolia
), balsam fir, mountain maple (A. spicatum
), and many other species of browse. In Newfoundland, paper birch is preferred. Further details on regional food preferences are summarized in:
In Alaska, snowshoe hares consume new leaves of blueberries (Vaccinium
spp.), new shoots of field horsetails (Equisetum arvense
), and fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium
) in spring. Grasses are not a major item due to low availability associated with sites that have adequate cover. In summer, leaves of willows, black spruce, birches, and bog Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum
) are also consumed. Black spruce is the most heavily used and the most common species in the area. Pen trials suggest black spruce is not actually preferred. Roses (Rosa
spp.) were preferred, but a minor dietary item, as they were not common in the study area. In northwest Oregon, summer foods include grasses, clovers (Trifolium
spp.), other forbs, and some woody plants, including Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir, and young leaves and twigs of salal. In Minnesota, aspens, willows, grasses, birches, alders, sumacs, and strawberries are consumed when green. In Ontario, summer diets consist of clovers, grasses, and forbs.
The snowshoe hare is a major prey item for a number of predators. Major predators include Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis
), bobcats (L. rufus
), fishers (Martes pennanti
), American martens (M. americana
), long-tailed weasels (Mustela frenata
), minks (M. vison
), foxes (Vulpes
spp.), coyote (Canis latrans
), domestic dogs (C. familiaris
), domestic cats (Felis catus
), wolves (C. lupus
), mountain lions (Felis concolor
), great horned owls (Bubo virginianus
), barred owls (Strix varia
), spotted owls (S. occidentalis
), other owls, red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis
), northern goshawks (Accipiter gentilis
), other hawks (Buteonidae), golden eagles (Aquila chryseatos
), and crows and ravens. Other predators include black bears (Ursus americanus
). In Glacier National Park snowshoe hares are a prey item of Rocky Mountain wolves (Canis lupus irremotus
This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of Agriculture document "Lepus americanus".
Media related to Lepus americanus
at Wikimedia Commons
Hares and jackrabbits are leporids belonging to the genus Lepus. A hare less than one year old is called a leveret. Four species commonly known as types of hare are classified outside of Lepus: the hispid hare (Caprolagus hispidus), and three species known as red rock hares (Pronolagus spp.).
Hares are very fast-moving animals; the European brown hare (Lepus europaeus) is able to run at speeds of up to 56 km/h (35 mph). The five species of jackrabbit found in central and western North America are able to run at 64 km/h (40 mph), and can leap up to 3m (ten feet) at a time. They live solitarily or in pairs, while a "drove" is the collective noun for a group of hares.
A common type of hare in Arctic North America is the snowshoe hare, replaced farther south by the black-tailed jackrabbit, white-tailed jackrabbit, and other species.
Normally a shy animal, the European brown hare changes its behavior in spring, when hares can be seen in broad daylight chasing one another around meadows; this appears to be competition between males to attain dominance (and hence more access to breeding females). During this spring frenzy, hares can be seen "boxing"; one hare striking another with its paws (probably the origin of the term "mad as a March hare"). For a long time, this had been thought to be intermale competition, but closer observation has revealed it is usually a female hitting a male to prevent copulation.
Hares do not bear their young below ground in a burrow as do other leporids, but rather in a shallow depression or flattened nest of grass called a form. Young hares are adapted to the lack of physical protection, relative to that afforded by a burrow, by being born fully furred and with eyes open. They are hence able to fend for themselves soon after birth; they are precocial. By contrast, the related rabbits and cottontail rabbits are altricial, having young that are born blind and hairless.
All rabbits (except the cottontail rabbits) live underground in burrows or warrens, while hares (and cottontail rabbits) live in simple nests above the ground, and usually do not live in groups. Hares are generally larger than rabbits, with longer ears, and have black markings on their fur. Hares have not been domesticated, while rabbits are kept as house pets. The domestic pet known as the "Belgian hare" is a rabbit that has been selectively bred to resemble a hare.
The hare's diet is similar to the rabbit's. They are both in the order Lagomorpha.
Hares have jointed, or kinetic, skulls, unique among mammals.
They have 48 chromosomes (44 for the rabbit).
The 32 species listed are:
Hares and rabbits are plentiful in many areas, adapt to a wide variety of conditions, and reproduce quickly, so hunting is often less regulated than for other varieties of game. In rural areas of North America and particularly in pioneer times, they were a common source of meat. However, because of their extremely low fat content, they are a poor choice as a survival food.
Hares can be prepared in the same manner as rabbits—commonly roasted or taken apart for breading and frying.
Hasenpfeffer (also spelled Hasenfeffer) is a traditional German stew made from marinated rabbit or hare. Pfeffer is not only the name of a spice, but also of a dish where the animal's blood is used as a gelling agent for the sauce. Wine or vinegar is also a prominent ingredient, to lend a sourness to the recipe.
Lagos Stifado (Λαγός στιφάδο) hare stew with pearl onions, vinegar, red wine and cinnamon is a much prized dish enjoyed in Greece and Cyprus and communities in the diaspora particularly in Australia where the hare is hunted as a feral pest.
Jugged hare (known as civet de lièvre in France), is a whole hare, cut into pieces, marinated, and cooked with red wine and juniper berries in a tall jug that stands in a pan of water. It traditionally is served with the hare's blood (or the blood is added right at the very end of the cooking process) and port wine.
Jugged hare is described in the influential 18th century cookbook, The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse, with a recipe titled, "A Jugged Hare", that begins, "Cut it into little pieces, lard them here and there...." The recipe goes on to describe cooking the pieces of hare in water in a jug set within a bath of boiling water to cook for three hours. Beginning in the 19th century, Glasse has been widely credited with having started the recipe with the words "First, catch your hare," as in this citation. This attribution is apocryphal.
However, having a freshly caught, or shot, hare enables one to obtain its blood. A freshly killed hare is prepared for jugging by removing its entrails and then hanging it in a larder by its hind legs, which causes the blood to accumulate in the chest cavity. One method of preserving the blood after draining it from the hare (since the hare itself is usually hung for a week or more) is to mix it with red wine vinegar to prevent it coagulating, and then to store it in a freezer.
Many other British cookbooks from before the middle of the 20th century have recipes for jugged hare. Merle and Reitch have this to say about jugged hare, for example:
In 2006, a survey of 2021 people for the television channel UKTV Food found only 1.6% of the people under 25 recognized jugged hare by name. Seven of 10 stated they would refuse to eat jugged hare if it were served at the house of a friend or a relative.
The hare (and in recent times, the rabbit) is a staple of Maltese cuisine. The dish was presented to the island's Grandmasters of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, as well as Renaissance Inquisitors resident on the island, several of whom went on to become pope.
According to Jewish tradition, the hare is among mammals deemed not kosher, and therefore not eaten by observant Jews. However, according to Islamic dietary laws, Muslims deem coney][ meat halal. The Shia, though, have difference in opinion.
In England, a now rarely served dish is potted hare. The hare meat is cooked, then covered in at least one inch (preferably more) of butter. The butter is a preservative (excludes air); the dish can be stored for up to several months. It is served cold, often on bread or as an appetizer.
The hare in African folk tales is a trickster; some of the stories about the hare were retold among African slaves in America, and are the basis of the Brer Rabbit stories. In Britain, the hare was associated with the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre and whose pagan attributes were appropriated into the Christian tradition as the Easter Bunny. The hare also appears in English folklore in the saying "as mad as a March hare" and in the legend of the White Hare that alternatively tells of a witch who takes the form of a white hare and goes out looking for prey at night or of the spirit of a broken-hearted maiden who cannot rest and who haunts her unfaithful lover. In Irish folklore, the hare is often associated with Sidh (Fairy) or other pagan elements. In these stories, characters who harm hares often suffer dreadful consequences.
Many cultures, including the Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican, see a hare in the pattern of dark patches in the moon (see Moon rabbit); this tradition forms the basis of the Angelo Branduardi song "The Hare in the Moon". The constellation Lepus represents a hare.
One of Aesop's fables tells the story of The Tortoise and the Hare. The hare was regarded as an animal sacred to Aphrodite and Eros because of its high libido. Live hares were often presented as a gift of love.
Rabbits in culture and literature
A study in 2004 followed the history and migration of a symbolic image of three hares with conjoined ears. In this image, three hares are seen chasing each other in a circle with their heads near its centre. While each of the animals appears to have two ears, only three ears are depicted. The ears form a triangle at the centre of the circle and each is shared by two of the hares. The image has been traced from Christian churches in the English county of Devon right back along the Silk Road to China, via western and eastern Europe and the Middle East. Before its appearance in China, it was possibly first depicted in the Middle East before being reimported centuries later. Its use is associated with Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Buddhist sites stretching back to about AD 600.
The hare has given rise to local place names, as they can often be observed in favoured localities. An example in Scotland is 'Murchland', the Scots word for a hare being 'murchen'.
The brush rabbit (Sylvilagus bachmani), or western brush rabbit, is a species of cottontail rabbit found in western coastal regions of North America, from the Columbia River in Oregon to the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. Its range extends as far east as the eastern sides of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges.
The brush rabbit inhabits dense, brushy cover, most commonly in chaparral vegetation. It also occurs in oak and conifer habitats and it will live in brush or grassland, and form networks of runways through the vegetation. The brush rabbit does not dig its own burrow or den, but uses the burrow of other species, brush piles, or forms. In the San Francisco Bay Area, it was found that the brush rabbit concentrates its activities at the edge of brush and exhibits much less use of grassy areas. It uses the interior brush of the wilderness and it was also found that this may be a better environment for it than the chaparral one. Studies done on the brush rabbit in Oregon also showed that it rarely left the brushy areas it inhabits. Brush may be used more in the drier seasons while grasses are used in the wetter seasons in relation to growth of annual vegetation. Use of habitat also probably is related to the breeding season.
The brush rabbit is smaller than many of the other cottontails, and unlike most of them, the underside of its tail is grey rather than white (which may be why its common name does not include the word "cottontail"). The upperside of the brush rabbit's fur varies from light brown to gray in color, while the underside is usually always white. Adult rabbits measure anywhere from 10–14 inches long and rarely weigh over two pounds.
Large numbers of geographically defined subspecies have been proposed, including in Oregon, ubericolor; in California, cinerascens, mariposae, riparius, tehamae and trowbridgii; and in Baja California, cerrosensis, exiguus, howelli, peninsularis and rosaphagus. Subspecies bachmani, macrorhinus and virgulti are less geographically restricted. Sylvilagus bachmani riparius, the riparian brush rabbit, is highly endangered; formerly numerous along the San Joaquin River and Stanislaus River, it is now reduced to a population of a few hundred in the Caswell Memorial State Park. Of the various proposed subspecies, only the following are currently recognized; the others are synonyms: S. b. ubericolor, S. b. cinerascens, S. b. bachmani, S. b. exiguus, S. b. howelli, S. b. cerrosensis.
It has been noted that numbers of the eastern cottontail were brought west to reproduce and provide a food source for the settlers. The interbreeding of the two species has occurred where the Brush Rabbit has in parts of Oregon developed the white cottontail although retaining its smaller size.
Brush rabbit mating, as with other rabbits, may occur year-round but peak breeding seasons are between February and August. The gestation period of the brush rabbit female is about 22 days. A female brush rabbit can have as many as five litters per year but two to three is more common. One to seven young are born per litter and they are altricial. The average number born per litter is three.
A trapping study of the brush rabbit in the Berkeley Hills in northern California indicated that males had larger home ranges than females at all times of the year, and especially in May when females were moving the least. It is estimated the home ranges of the Brush Rabbit average just under 1-acre (4,000 m2) for males and just under 0.5 acres (2,000 m2) for females. The shape of these home ranges are usually circular but depending on the vegetation can be different in size and shape. Range use probably is not circular in shape or uniform, but rather consists of a series of runways that directly connect high use areas within brush habitat. Intraspecific socio-spatial behavior appears to be variable and may reflect local resource conditions. Several rabbits have been observed to feed in the same area simultaneously, but maintained inter-individual distances of one to 24 feet (7.3 m) before aggressive chases occurred. It has been shown that females tended to not overlap while males showed relatively extensive overlapping and this may indicate that females are territorial. Groups of brush rabbits may serve social purposes, such as predator detection, but this has not been proven.
The brush rabbit feeds mainly on grasses and forbs, especially green clover, though it will also take berries and browse from bushes.
Its predators include the cougar, the coyote, foxes, the bobcat, weasels, and various raptors and snakes. Its survival strategies include remaining immobile, when in brushy areas, and zig-zag running when found and/or in open spaces.
The brush rabbit is not hunted as are many other cottontail species, probably because of its small size. It is not a major cause of damage to crops or other human developments in its habitat. Certain subspecies of the brush rabbit are considered endangered and are protected by state and federal laws.
The European hare (Lepus europaeus), also known as the brown hare, is a species of hare native to Europe and western Asia. It is a mammal adapted to temperate, open country. It is related to and looks very similar to the European rabbit, which is in the same family but in a different genus. Hares are larger than the European rabbit, have longer ears and hind legs and breed on the ground rather than in a burrow. They rely on speed to escape from predators.
Generally nocturnal and shy in nature, hares change their behaviour in the spring, when they can be seen in broad daylight chasing one another around fields and meadows. During this spring frenzy, they can be seen "boxing", where hares strike one another with their paws. For a long time, this had been thought to be competition between males, but closer observation has revealed it is usually a female hitting a male, either to show she is not yet ready to mate or as a test of his determination. This species has a fairly long breeding season which lasts from January to August. Hares are herbivorous and feed on grasses, herbs, twigs, buds, bark and field crops. Their natural predators include hawks, falcons, wolves, bears, and lynxes.
The European hare is listed as being of Least Concern by the IUCN. However it is declining in mainland Europe because of changes in farming practices. The hare has been a symbol of fertility and reproduction in pagan cultures, and its courtship behaviour in the spring inspired the English idiom "mad as a March hare".
The European hare was first described by German zoologist Peter Simon Pallas in 1778. It shares the genus Lepus with other hares and jackrabbits. These animals are distinguished from other leporids by their longer legs, wider nostrils and precocial young. The former two are adaptations for long distance running. Historically, up to 30 subspecies of European hare have been classified, although their status has been variable. These subspecies have been distinguished by differences in pelage colouration, body size, external body measurements, and skull and tooth shape. The Corsican hare, Broom hare and Granada hare were at some points considered to be subspecies of the European hare, however DNA sequencing and morphological analysis has supported them as separate species.
There is some debate as to whether the European hare and Cape hare are the same species. A 2005 nuclear gene pool study supported this position. However, a 2006 study of the mtDNA of these same animals concluded they had diverged enough to be considered separate species. A 2008 study claims that in the case of Lepus hares, with their rapid evolution, species designation cannot be based solely on mtDNA but should also include an examination of the nuclear gene pool. It is possible that the genetic differences between the European and Cape hare is due to geographic distance rather than actual divergence. It has been speculated that in the Near East, hare populations are intergrading and experiencing gene flow. Another 2008 study suggests that more research is needed before a conclusion is reached as to whether there is a species complex. As of 2008, the European hare remains classified as a single species until further data shows otherwise.
There appears to be genetic diversity in the European hare in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany. However, it is possible that restricted gene flow could change this within populations that become isolated. Based on molecular phylogenetic studies, the Cantabric population in Spain has unique mtDNA in relation to other European populations.
The European hare is one of the largest living members of Lagomorpha. Its head and body length can range from 48 to 75 cm (19 to 30 in) with a tail length of 7 to 13 cm (2.8 to 5.1 in). The body mass can range from 2.5 to 7 kg (5.5 to 15 lb). As with all leporids, the hare has elongated ears which, in this species, ranges from 9.4 to 11.0 cm (3.7 to 4.3 in) from the notch. It also has long hind feet that have a length from 14 to 16 cm (5.5 to 6.3 in). The fur colour is grizzled yellow-brown on the back; rufous on the shoulders, legs, neck and throat; white on the underside and black on the tail and ear tips. The European hare’s fur does not turn completely white in the winter, although the sides of the head and base of the ears do develop white areas. The limb musculature of hares is adapted for high-speed endurance running in open areas. By contrast, cottontail rabbits are built for short bursts of speed in more covered habitats.
European hares are native to much of continental Europe. Their range extends from northern Spain to southern Scandinavia, eastern Europe and northern parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. They have been extending their range into Siberia. They may have been introduced to Britain in prehistoric times. They have also been introduced, mostly as game animals, to North America (in Ontario and New York State), Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, the Falkland Islands, Australia, both islands of New Zealand, Réunion and the south Pacific coast of Russia.
Hares primarily live in open fields with scattered brush for shelter. They are very adaptable and thrive in mixed farmland. According to a study done in the Czech Republic, the mean hare densities were highest at altitudes below 200 metres (660 ft), 40 to 60 days of annual snow cover, 450 to 700 millimetres (18 to 28 in) of annual precipitation, and a mean annual air temperature of around . With regards to climate the study found that hare densities were highest in: "A warm and dry district with mild winter and longer duration of sunshine; a warm and dry district with mild winter and shorter duration of sunshine; a warm and moderately dry district with mild winter".
In the United Kingdom, hares are seen most frequently on arable farms, especially those with fallow land, wheat and sugar beet crops. In mainly grass farms their numbers are raised when there are improved pastures, some arable crops and patches of woodland. They are seen less frequently where foxes are abundant or where there are many buzzards. They also seem to be fewer in number in areas with high rabbit populations. Although they are shot as game when they are plentiful, this is a self-limiting activity and is less likely to occur in localities where they are scarce.
Hares are primarily nocturnal and spend a third of their time foraging. During daytime, a hare will hide in a depression called a "form" where it is partially hidden. Hares can run at 70 km/h (43 mph) and when confronted by predators they rely on outrunning them in the open. Hares may be preyed on by canids, felids and birds of prey. They are generally thought of as asocial but can be seen in both large and small groups. They do not appear to be territorial, living in shared home ranges of around 300 ha (740 acres). Hares communicate with each other by a variety of visual signals. To show interest they raise their ears, while lowering the ears warns others to keep away. When challenging a conspecific, a hare will thump its front feet; the hind feet are used to warn others of a predator. A hare will squeal when hurt or scared and a female will make "guttural" calls to attract her young.
European hares are primarily herbivorous. During the summer, they eat grasses, herbs and field crops. Their preference is for wild grasses and weeds but with the intensification of agriculture, they have taken to feeding on crops. During the winter, they eat herbage, twigs, buds and the bark of shrubs and young fruit trees. They have been known to eat their own green, pellet feces to recover proteins and vitamins. Two to three adult hares can eat more food than a single sheep.
European hares forage in groups. Group feeding is beneficial as individuals can spend more time feeding knowing that other hares are being vigilant. Nevertheless, the distribution of food affects these benefits. When food is well-spaced, all hares are able to access it. When food is clumped together, only dominant hares can access it. In small gatherings, dominants are more successful in defending food, but as more individuals join in, they must spend more time driving off others. The larger the group, the less time dominant individuals have in which to eat. Meanwhile, the subordinates can access the food while the dominants are distracted. As such, when in groups, all individuals fare worse when food is clumped as opposed to when it is widely spaced.
European hares have a prolonged breeding season which lasts from January to August. Sexual maturity occurs at seven or eight months for females and six months for males. Females, or does, can be found pregnant in all breeding months and males, or bucks, are fertile all year round except during October and November. After autumn, the resting period for breeding activity, the size and activity of the males' testes increase, signalling the start of a new reproductive cycle. This continues though December, January and February and the reproductive tract gains back its functionality. Matings start before ovulation with the first pregnancies containing one foetus and pregnancy failures being common. Full reproductive activity begins in March and April, when all the females may become pregnant, the majority with three or more foetuses.
Females have six-weekly reproductive cycles and are receptive for only a few hours in one day. Thus competition among local bucks is intense. This phenomenon is known as "March madness" as it observed in March as the nights, the bucks' preferred time for activity, are shorter and thus forces them to be active in the daytime. In addition to dominants subduing subordinates, the female will fight off her numerous suitors if she is not ready to mate. Fights can be vicious and can leave numerous scars on the ears. Hares will stand upright and attack each other with their paws, a practice known as "boxing", and this activity is usually between a female and a male and not between males as previously believed. When a doe is ready to mate, she will run across the countryside, starting a chase that will test the fitness of the following males. When only the most dominant male remains, the female will stop and allow copulation.
Female fertility continues through May, June and July, however testosterone production decreases in males and sexual behaviour becomes less overt. Litter sizes decrease as the breeding season draws to a close with no pregnancies occurring after August. The testes of males begin to regress and sperm production ends in September. Does give birth in hollow depression in the ground. An individual female may have three litters in a year with a 41 to 42 day gestation period. The young weigh about 100 grams (3.5 oz) at birth. The leverets (young hares) are fully furred and are precocial, being ready to leave the nest as soon as they are born. This is because hares do not give birth to their young below ground in a burrow but rather in a form, a hollow in the grass. Thus hares are adapted to the lack of physical protection, relative to that afforded by a burrow. A mother will visit the nest to nurse the leverets for five minutes a day. Young can eat solid food after two weeks and are weaned when they are four weeks old. Hares can live for as long as twelve years.
The European hare is listed as being of Least Concern by the IUCN as it is considered to be wide-ranging and moderately abundant throughout its geographic distribution. However, population declines have occurred since the 1960s and have possibly been caused by the intensification of agricultural practices. In low population densities, hare are vulnerable to local extinctions. The Bern Convention lists the hare under Appendix III as a protected species. Several countries have placed the species on their Red List as "near threatened" or "threatened". The hare is considered a pest in some areas and is known to damage crops. They are also hunted as game animals. Additional threats to the hare are the diseases European brown hare syndrome, pasteurellosis, yersiniosis (pseudo-tuberculosis), coccidiosis and tularaemia, which are the principal sources of mortality.
In Anglo-Saxon paganism, the hare is associated with reproduction and fertility and is a symbol for the spring goddess Eostre. Its connection with Easter eggs was based on a misconception by the Europeans that lapwings laid their eggs in the homes of hares. Germanic cultures noticed the high activity of hares during the spring and it was believed that their "mating dance" helped the earth grow. This observation would also lead to the popular English idiom "mad as a March hare". The hare is a character in some fables, such as The Tortoise and the Hare of Aesop. It also appears in Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, in which Alice participates in a crazy tea party with the March Hare and the Mad Hatter.
The desert cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii), also known as Audubon's cottontail, is a New World cottontail rabbit; a member of the family Leporidae.
The desert cottontail is found throughout the western United States from eastern Montana to western Texas, and in northern and central Mexico. Westwards its range extends to central Nevada and southern California and Baja California. It is found at heights of up to 2,000 m (6,600 ft). It is particularly associated with the dry near-desert grasslands of the American southwest; though it is also found in less arid habitats such as pinyon-juniper forest.
The desert cottontail is quite similar in appearance to the European rabbit, though its ears are larger and are more often carried erect. It is also social among its peers, often gathering in small groups to feed. The desert cottontail uses burrows made by other rodents rather than making its own. Like all cottontail rabbits, the desert cottontail has a rounded tail with white fur on the underside which is visible as it runs away. It is a light grayish-brown in color, with almost white fur on the belly. Adults are 33 to 43 cm (13 to 17 in) long and weigh up to 1.5 kg (3.3 lb). The ears are 8 to 10 cm (3.1 to 3.9 in) long, and the hind feet are large, about 7.5 cm (3.0 in) in length). There is little sexual dimorphism, but females tend to be larger than the males, but have much smaller home ranges, about 4,000 square metres (1 acre) compared with about 60,000 square metres (15 acres) for a male.
The desert cottontail is not usually active in the middle of the day, but it can be seen in the early morning or late afternoon. It mainly eats grass, but will eat many other plants, herbs, vegetables and even cacti. It rarely needs to drink, getting its water mostly from the plants it eats or from dew. Like most lagomorphs, it is coprophagic, re-ingesting and chewing its own feces: this allows more nutrition to be extracted.
Many desert animals prey on cottontails, including birds of prey, mustelids, the coyote, the bobcat, the lynx, wolves, mountain lions, snakes, weasels, humans, and even squirrels, should a cottontail be a juvenile, injured or docile. Southwestern Native Americans hunted them for meat but also used their fur and hides. The cottontail's normal anti-predator behavior is to run away in evasive zigzags; it can reach speeds of over 30 km/h (19 mph). Against small predators or other desert cottontails, it will defend itself by slapping with a front paw and nudging; usually preceded by a hop straight upwards as high as two feet when threatened or taken by surprise.
The young are born in a shallow burrow or above ground, but they are helpless when born, and do not leave the nest until they are three weeks old. Where climate and food supply permit, females can produce several litters a year. Unlike the European rabbit, they do not form social burrow systems, but compared with some other leporids, they are extremely tolerant of other individuals in their vicinity.
Unlike the squirrel and chipmunk that eat sitting up on their hind legs, and can hold food with their front paws while spinning it in circles to devour it quickly, the desert cottontail, like all cottontails, eat on all fours; and can only use its nose to move and adjust the position of the food that it places directly in front of its front paws on the ground. A cottontail will turn the food with its nose to find the cleanest part of the vegetation (free of sand and inedible parts) to begin its meal. The only time a cottontail uses its front paws to enable eating, is when vegetation is above its head on a living plant. The cottontail will lift its paw to bend the branch to bring the food within reach.
Cottontails are rarely found out of their burrows looking for food on windy days. This phenomena is due to the fact that the wind interferes with their hearing capabilities. Hearing an oncoming predator approaching is their number one defense mechanism.
Desert cottontail in submissive posture anticipating food
California High Desert cottontail on alert
Juvenile desert cottontail.
Six week old Cottontail venturing out of its birthplace for the very first time.
Mother and Juvenile enjoying a carrot dinner.
Leporids are over 60 species of rabbits and hares that form the family Leporidae. The leporids, together with the pikas, constitute the mammalian order Lagomorpha. Leporids differ from pikas in having short, furry tails, and elongated ears and hind legs. The name leporid is simply an abbreviation of the family name Leporidae, meaning animals resembling lepus, Latin for hare. Lepus
The snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus), also called the varying hare, or snowshoe rabbit, is a species of hare found in North America. It has the name "snowshoe" because of the large size of its hind feet and the marks its tail leaves. 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. Hare