Snowshoe Hares are shy and elusive. You may see one for a few seconds and then he is gone. Back into the woods to forage in his domain of several acres, he won’t stay around for long once you have been spotted. Their impressive body size, long ears and speed quickly sets them apart from their cousins the rabbit.
Fun Facts about Snowshow Hares
Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) are part of the order Lagomorphs.
Female snowshoe hares are often slightly larger than males. Adult snowshoe hares typically weigh 1.2 to 1.6 kg.
Their lifespan in the wild can be up to one year.
Snowshoe hares are most active at night (nocturnal). They struggle to see in bright light, but can see well in darkness.
Snowshoe hares are usually silent, but they can show annoyance by snorting. When caught, they sometimes utter a high-pitched squeal. During the breeding season, bucks (males) and does (females) make a clicking noise to each other. Does also click to call their young to them for nursing.
Although hard to spot in the summer, their distinct tracks and well used trails become conspicuous in the snow.
They are well adapted to living in the winter. They have large, generously furred hind feed that allow them to move quickly on the snow.
Another adaptation to winter is their fur coat which goes from grey-brown in the summer to white by midwinter in snowy areas. This change in fur colour occurs as a result of gradual shedding and replacement of the outer guard hairs twice a year. It is triggered by seasonal changes in day length. Interestingly however, in the humid coastal zones of Oregon, Washington and southwestern British Columbia where snow is infrequent, the snowshoe hare remains grey-brown throughout the year.
Snowshoe hares also moult twice a year: once in August/September and again in March/April.
Snowshoe hares are herbivores and consume a wide variety of plants that are seasonally available. These plants include vetch, strawberry, fireweed, dandelions, lupine, bluebell, and some grasses. They also eat many leaves from shrubs.
Their winter diet consists of small twigs, buds, and bark from many coniferous and deciduous species. As their geographic range is so large, snowshoe hares in different regions may have completely different diets due to their forest’s type.
In the winter as the snow builds, snowshoe hares can eat from higher and higher up on plants. This means the accumulation of snow can actually be helpful to hares.
Snowshoe hares occasionally scavenge meat from the carcasses of other animals too.
Home Sweet Home
Snowshoe Hares are found only in North America. They live in many forest types (coniferous and deciduous).
Snowshoe hares prefer areas with a dense layer of plants below the main canopy of the forest. So a middle aged forest would be preferable to a very old forest with little undercanopy. The undercanopy helps to protect them from predators and provide them with food.
The home range of a snowshoe hare is approximately 6 to 10 hectares! Within that range, the hare has an intricate network of trails that crisscross its territory. These trails take the hares between feeding and resting places.
They do not dig burrows but rather rest in shallow depressions in the dirt and are always ready to escape a predator.
Snowshoe hares are not typically sold or bred as pets. And they should not be. They are wild animals whose needs cannot be satisfied in an artificial environment.
They are terrified of being handled. To them, it’s no different than being picked up by a predator. It is very difficult to care for an animal who does not want to be touched.
Snowshoe hares become very restless and aggressive in captivity as life with humans is too restrictive. They need acres and acres of space to run, play and forage.
Survival rates in captivity are very low. Only about 10% survive.
Although it is sometimes necessary for snowshoe hares to go into care at a rehabilitation facility, it is important to note that they stay there for only a short time. As soon as they are old and healthy enough, they are returned to the wild where they belong.
When threatened, the snowshoe hare may freeze to take advantage of its camouflaging coloration, or it may flee. Snowshoe hares younger than two weeks, which cannot yet move swiftly, remain immobile. The older snowshoe hare’s tendency is to flee as most often they will see predators before being seen.
When escaping, snowshoe hares travel by bounding up to 3 metres at a time. They can move as fast as 45 km/h and rarely hide underground.
Population declines of snowshoe hares are caused by predation and difficult winters.
The breeding season for snowshoe hares begins mid-March with courtship parades. Females are receptive for about 24 hours first in late March and then a day after giving birth to each litter. Females often breed with several males.
The gestation period is 36 days. Litters contain on average three to six leverets but can have up to thirteen. Snowshoe hares have two to four litters per year.
When snowshoe hares are born they are fully furred, their eyes are open and they are capable of hopping around almost immediately.
Leverets nurse only once a day, usually in the evening. They are self-supporting at three to four weeks of age.
At birth leverets weigh between 45 – 75 grams at birth and gain 450 grams within a month. The average adult weight of 1.4 kg by five months old.