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The Arctic hare lives farther north than any other hare. By conserving its body heat, it can survive in temperatures as low as –36 degrees Fahrenheit. The Arctic hare inhabits some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world. The barren landscape provides little cover, and the hare is exposed to stinging winds and freezing snow throughout the year.
Habits: The timid Arctic hare, also known as the mountain hare, is solitary throughout most of the year. But, in winter it gathers in large groups with other hares to give it some protection from predators. When the group is attacked, the hares scatter in all directions to confuse the predator. The hares living in the southern part of the Arctic move into the forests that border the tundra (Arctic plain) at the onset of winter, which give them some protection from the cold winds. Those remaining on the tundra seek shelter behind scattered rocks.
During the day, the Arctic hare rests in a shallow hole that it scrapes in the ground, called a form. The Arctic hare’s winter fur camouflages it in snow and conserves body heat. The Arctic hare has very keen eyesight and hearing to help it detect predators.
Food and Feeding: A large part of the Arctic hare’s diet consists of the small arctic willow shrub. The hare looks for food at night. In the northernmost part of its range, snow covers the ground for as many as 280 days a year. Most of the plants on the tundra grow close to the ground for protection against freezing winds. When the plants become covered with snow and ice, hares have a difficult time digging out enough food for survival and may die of starvation.
Breeding: During the breeding season, the male hare, called a jack, fights with other males to attract a female, or doe. Mating takes place in spring throughout most of the range, except in the most northern parts, where breeding begins in May. One to nine young rabbits, called leverets, are born 50 days after mating. Although this is a longer gestation period than is usual for hares, the extra time spent developing in the mother’s womb means that the leverets are well developed at birth, which increases their chances of survival in the harsh environment.
The leverets have complete coats of fur at birth and are able to see clearly. They feed on the doe’s rich milk once a day. The leverets often scrape out their own forms (holes) several days after birth.
Length: Body, 1-3 ft. Tail, 3-5 in.
Weight: 5-10 lb.
Sexual maturity: 1 year
Mating season: Spring and summer
Gestation: 50 days
No. of young: 1-9, usually 5-6
Habit: Mostly solitary, but seen in large groups during breeding season and also in autumn and winter in northernmost regions.
Diet: Grasses and arctic willow; grain in warmer climates
Lifespan: Average 2 years
Related Species: A subspecies Lepus timidus
scoticus, is found in Scotland. Another, L. timidus hibernicus, occurs
in Ireland but does not turn white.
Distribution: Arctic and northern temperate regions of the world, including Alaska, Greenland, Europe, and Asia.
Conservation: The Arctic hare is currently in no danger of extinction. Still, as the human population expands into the Arctic region, and as pollution increases, the threat to its survival grows as well.
Features of the Arctic Hare:
Winter Coat: Turns white in winter to reduce heat loss. Fur on the ears thickens.
Summer Coat: The Arctic hare’s summer coat is less thick and lighter in color.
Ears: The Arctic hare has short ears that conserve heat. The jackrabbit of Arizona has long ears that keep it cool in its desert habitat.
Feet: The Arctic hare’s feet are covered with fur to help it stay warm and give a firmer footing on the ice and snow.
Special Adaptations: Like many grazing animals, the Arctic hare is preyed upon by carnivorous (meat eating) animals, such as the Arctic fox, the wolf, and the golden eagle. To protect itself from predators, the Arctic hare has several features that help it to escape detection and attack. During winter, the hare’s coat turns completely white, which provides excellent camouflage in the snow and ice. Depending on the temperature and location, the hare usually molts (sheds) its coat in spring, replacing it with a darker one. The color change is triggered by the temperature and the sunlight, as well as by the hare’s need to blend in with its seasonal surroundings.
The most important adaptations of the Arctic hare are its keen eyesight, acute hearing, and speed. Its eyes are set at the top of its head, giving the hare a wide field of vision. Once it has sighted a predator, it freezes. The hare bounds away only when it knows that it has been detected.
Did You Know:
The natural habitats of rabbits and hares are found throughout the world. One exception is Australia, where hares were absent until they were introduced by man.
The Alaskan hare has the fastest growth rate of any hare in the world.
Hares appear often in the cave paintings of prehistoric civilizations. The ancient Romans raised them in walled enclosures for their meat, which was regarded as a delicacy.