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Living OrganismsAnimalia / Craniata / Mammalia / Lagomorpha / Leporidae / Lepus / Species

Lepus americanus - Snowshoe hare (Click photographs/illustrations for full picture & further details)

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INDEX - INFORMATION AVAILABLE

GENERAL & REFERENCES

APPEARANCE / MORPHOLOGY

LIFE STAGES / NATURAL DIET / PHYSIOLOGY

BEHAVIOUR

HABITAT & RANGE

CONSERVATION

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General and References

Alternative Names (Synonyms)

  • Varying hare. (B430.w2)
  • Snowshoe rabbit. (B430.w2)
  • Lepus bairdi (J330.39.w1)
  • Lepus bishopi. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus columbianus. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus hudsonius. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus klamathensis. (B430.w2, B607.w20)
  • Lepus nanus. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus pallidus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4, B607.w20)
  • Lepus phaeonotus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4, B607.w20)
  • Lepus pineus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4, B607.w20)
  • Lepus seclusus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4, B607.w20)
  • Lepus setzeri. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus americanus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4)
  • Leous americanus bairdii. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4, B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus borealis. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus cascadensis. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4, B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus columbiensis. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4)
  • Lepus americanus dalli. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4, B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus khamathensis. (B605.4.w4) [Possible spelling error? See subspecies below.]
  • Lepus americanus klamathensis. (B430.w2, B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus macfarlani. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus niediecki. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus oregonus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4, B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus pallidus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4)
  • Lepus americanus phaeonotus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4)
  • Lepus americanus pineus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4, B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus saliens. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus seclusus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4, B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus setzeri. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus struthopus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4, B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus tahoensis. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4, B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus virginianus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4, B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus wardi. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus washingtoni. (B430.w2, B607.w20)
  • Lepus americanus washingtonii. (B605.4.w4)

Names for new-borns / juveniles

  • Leveret (B285.w5b)

Names for males

Names for females

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General Appearance

Adult:

General Information

  • All hares have well-furred feet. (B147)
  • "The upper parts of the body are usually brown or grayish brown, and the underparts are paler or white." (B147)
  • Some species of hare have black tips to their ears, and some have black fur on the upper side of their tail. (B147)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • "The snowshoe hare is a medium-sized hare with large ears and hind feet, dark brown with gray chin and belly in summer and white with black-tipped ears in winter." (B430.w2)

Newborn:

  • Lepus spp. leverets are furred at birth. (B147, B285.w5b, B287)

Similar Species

--

Sexual Dimorphism

--

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References

Species Authors & Referees

Author: Kathryn Pintus BSc MSc MSc (V.w115)

ORGANISATIONS

ELECTRONIC LIBRARY
(Further Reading)
Click image for full contents list of ELECTRONIC LIBRARY

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Husbandry Information

Notes

  • "Although wild hares rarely become accustomed to humans, young that are raised in captivity can make good pets." (B430.w2)

Management Techniques

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Appearance / Morphology

Measurement & Weight

Notes

Specific Lepus americanus Information

LENGTH
Adult:

  • The Snowshoe hare is the smallest of the Lepus species. (B605.4.w4)
  • "Females are 10-40 percent larger than males." (B430.w2)
  • Average length: 450 mm. (B430.w2)
  • Length range: 363-520 mm. (B430.w2)

Newborns:

  • Average: 105.3 mm; Range: 97.0-113.4 mm (Sample size = 8). (B287)
  • Crown-rump: 110.7 mm. (B287)
  • Head-body: 153.7 mm (Sample size = 3). (B287)

HEIGHT
Adults and sub-adults: --
Juveniles: --

WEIGHT
Adult:

  • Average weight of this species: 1,300 g but varies between 1,050 g to 1,600 g depending on the population. (B605.4.w4)
  • Males
    • Average weight: 1,300 g. (B430.w2)
    • Weight range: 900-1,700 g. (B430.w2)
  • Females
    • Average weight: 1,500 g. (B430.w2)
    • Weight range: 900-2,200 g. (B430.w2)

Newborns:

  • Average: 52 g; Range: 48-58 g (Sample size = 3). (B287)
  • One embryo weighed 65.9 g. (B287)
  • Average: 67 g. (Sd = 13.2; sample size = 128). (B287)
  • Average: 68.7 g (Sample size = 3). (B287)
  • Average: 81.7 g; Range: 64-96 g. (Sample size = 22). (B287)
  • Weaning mass: 
    • Approximately 400 g at 30 days. (B287)
    • 486 g (sd = 84.4; sample size = 46; 28 days of age). (B287)

GROWTH RATE --

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Head and Neck

Notes

GENERAL HEAD STRUCTURE:
Adult:

Specific Lepus americanus Information 

  • The Snowshoe hare has relatively small ears (62-70 mm). (B605.4.w4)

Newborn: --

DENTITION:
Adult:

General Information

  • Rabbits and hares have a total of 28 teeth. (B285.w5a)
  • The lower tooth rows are closer together than the upper tooth rows. (B147)
  • Lagomorphs differ from rodents by having two pairs of upper incisors rather than just the one pair. The additional set of incisors are called peg teeth and are found directly behind the long pair in the upper jaw. (B147, B285.w5a, B605.1.w1)
  • At birth, lagomorphs actually have three pairs of upper incisors, but they quickly lose the outer incisor on each side. (B147)
  • The incisors are covered completely by enamel. (B147)
  • The upper incisors' roots are found in the skull's premaxillary bones. However, the length of the lower incisors' roots varies. (B147)
    • [Note: lagomorphs have teeth which grow throughout their lives. For this reason the portion of the teeth which is not exposed (not above the gum line) is strictly speaking not a "root"; however, it is sometimes convenient to describe it as a root.]
  • The first upper incisors have a straight cutting edge. (B147)
  • The peg teeth lack a cutting edge. (B147)

EYES:
Adult:

General Information

  • Lagomorph eyes are positioned such that they allow for good broad-field vision. (B285.w5a)
  • Hares and rabbits have large eyes which are adapted to both their crepuscular and nocturnal activity patterns. (B285.w5b)
  • Leporids have "large eyes to increase visual acuity in dim light." (B430.w2)

Newborn: 

General Information

  • Leverets are born with their eyes open. (B147, B285.w5b, B287)

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Legs, Spine and Tracks

Notes

General Information
  • All hares have well-furred feet. (B147)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • This species has very large hind feet, approximately 112-150 mm in length. (B605.4.w4)
  • "The snowshoe hare's common name comes from its disproportionately large hind feet, which enable it to travel effectively in deep, soft snow during winter." (B430.w2)

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Tail

Notes

General Information
  • Leporids have a short tail. (B147)

Length:

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • Average length for this species: 44 mm. (B430.w2)
  • Range: 25-57 mm. (B430.w2)

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Skin / Coat / Pelage

Notes

Adult:

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • Summer: Brownish or rusty upperparts, with the belly and chin being white or greyish. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4)
  • Winter: White coat, with black-tipped ears. The underpaws are yellowish. (B430.w2)

Adult Colour variations:

General Information

  • Some Lepus species moult into a white winter pelage (B147, B605.4.w4), the timing of which depends upon the number of daylight hours. (B147)
  • "All species that turn white in winter undergo two molts per year. Some species that molt twice, however, do not have a white winter pelage." In these species, the winter pelage is grey, whereas the summer fur is brown. (B147)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • "In summer, L.americanus has a rusty brown back and head with a grayish belly and chin. The ears are black-tipped, and the nostrils and tail are white. Molting occurs in autumn, and the winter pelage is almost pure white except for the black-tipped ears and yellowish underpaws. The spring molt returns the hare to its summer coloration, although some subspecies (L.a.oregonus and L.a.washingtonii) retain their brown color throughout the year." (B430.w2)
  • Populations of Snowshoe hares which occupy areas of the Pacific Northwest that do not have continuous snow cover during the winter generally do not turn white. (B285.w5c)
  • "In summer the upper fur is brownish, dusky grey, or even rusty; the belly, underchin, and sometimes the feet white. In winter most populations moult to a white coat, although the under fur remains grey and the white is restricted to the tips of the hairs. Two subspecies (L.a.oregonus and L.a. washingtonii) may retain the summer coat coloring in winter." (B605.4.w4)

Newborn / Juvenile:

  • Lepus spp. leverets are furred at birth. (B147, B285.w5b, B287)

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Detailed Anatomy Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in Wildpro)

Notes

The details below are from general lagomorph, leporid and Lepus information.

Skull
  • Leporids have an arched skull with a slight constriction between the orbits. (B147)
  • Lepus species have a skull that is lighter than the skull of rabbit species. (B605.4.w4)
Female reproductive tract
  • Female Lepus spp. have three to five pairs of mammary glands, with an extensive mass of mammary tissue. (B147, B287)
Male reproductive tract
  • Males lack a baculum (B147)
  • Testes are in the scrotum located in front of the penis (B147)
Digestive system
  • The largest part of the digestive tract is the caecum; this has a capacity up to ten times that of the stomach. (B147)

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Life Stages / Natural Diet / Physiology

Life Stages

Notes

BREEDING SEASON:
Specific Lepus americanus Information 
  • The breeding season for this species lasts from mid-March to September. (B147)
  • The breeding season extends from March to July or August. (B430.w2)
  • "The breeding season is primarily controlled by day length, but the effect of weather and phase of the population cycle can alter the date of the first litter by three weeks in Alberta." (B605.4.w4)
  • Mating period varies according to the region:
    • Maine, USA: From March. It is unknown when the breeding season finishes.
    • Newfoundland, Canada: Between March and August. Please note that this species has also been found to breed in December in this region.
    • Utah, USA: From April. It is unknown when the breeding season finishes.
    • Colorado, USA: From April/May. It is unknown when the breeding season finishes.

    (B287)

  • Yukon, Canada: Reproduces in the summer. Reproduction occurs for 9-21 weeks. (B287)

  • Conception
    • Alberta (central), Canada: Between March and July.
    • Michigan, USA and Mautoulin Island (Lake Huron, Ontario), Canada: April to July.

    (B287)

OESTRUS / OVULATION:

General Information

GESTATION / PREGNANCY:

General Information

  • Under adverse conditions (such as during climatic or social stress), female lagomorphs are able to resorb embryos. (B285.w5a)
  • It is thought that some lagomorph species are able to conceive a second litter even before the last young is born; this is known as superfetation. (B285.w5a)
  • Gestation for Lepus species varies, but can be up to 50 days. (B285.w5c)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • The gestation period for this species lasts 36 days. (B147)
  • Gestation in the Snowshoe hare lasts between 34 and 40 days. (B430.w2)
  • In captivity, 36 - 40 days, average 37.2 days for 37 females over two years; the average for 19 females in the third year was 1.5 days longer. (J40.9.w1)
  • Gestation is usually between 34 and 39 days. (B287)
  • The time of year during which pregnant females are found varies depending upon the region:
    • Idaho, USA: February-July.
    • Minnesota, USA: March-August.
    • Rochester, Alberta, Canada: April.
    • Nova Scotia, Canada: April-June.
    • Alberta, Canada: April-July.
    • Canada: April-September.
    • Yukon, Canada: May-June.
    • Northern British Columbia, Canada: June-July.
    • New Hampshire, USA: November.
    • Newfoundland, Canada: end of November-January.

    (B287)

PARTURITION / BIRTH:

General Information

  • Leverets are precocial and are born into surface-depression forms. (B285.w5b)
  • Females give birth to their young in open areas, or in a shallow depression in the ground. (B147)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • As with other hares, Snowshoe hares give birth to precocial young, which grow rapidly. (B430.w2)
  • The time of year in which births occur varies depending upon the region:
    • In Maine, Wisconsin and Wyoming (USA), births occur between April and August. There is a peak in births in Wyoming during June and July.
    • Ontario, Canada: April to October.
    • New Mexico, USA: May-June.
    • Alaska, USA: May-July.
    • Michigan, USA: May-September.

    (B287)

Neonatal / Development:

General Information

  • Leverets are precocial; they are born fully furred, with open eyes, and are able to move about soon after birth. (B147, B287)
  • Young are only suckled briefly once every 24 hours. (B285.w5b)
  • Approximately three days after birth, leverets disperse to separate hiding locations. Leveret litter-mates will regroup for a brief suckling bout at a particular location at precisely defined intervals. Such regrouping often takes place around sunset. (B285.w5b)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • After a month, Snowshoe leverets are fully weaned. The young can reach adult weight within 3-5 months. (B430.w2)
  • Weaning mass: 
    • Approximately 400 g at 30 days. (B287)
    • 486 g (sd = 84.4; sample size = 46; 28 days of age). (B287)
LITTER SIZE:

General Information

  • The size of litters produced by leporids at northern latitudes tends to be greater than those produced by leporids at southern latitudes. (B430.w2)
  • Litter sizes in Lepus species range from one to nine offspring. (B285.w5c)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • Average litter size for this species: 3.82 young. (B287)
  • Average 2.92 per litter for 80 litters in captivity, including nine litters of five and one of six young in one year. Over three years, for 157 litters, 17 contained one leveret, 34 contained two, 57 contained three, 38 countained four, 10 contained five and one contained six leverets. Litter size increased over the breeding season. (J40.9.w1)
  • During times of rapid population growth, litter sizes increase to eight to ten young per litter. (B147)
  • "Litter sizes vary from 1 to 8 young, depending on the time of year and female nutritional status." (B430.w2)
  • "Litter size increases by about one from the first litter of the season to later litters, and regionally from about 2.2 to almost six." (B605.4.w4)
  • According to information from various studies, this species produces between one and seven young per litter, with most litters being formed of two or three young. (B287)
TIME BETWEEN LITTERS / LITTERS PER YEAR:

General Information

  • The inter-birth interval in lagomorphs is reduced by the phenomenon of induced ovulation, and post-partum oestrus, which allows females to conceive immediately after she has given birth. (B285.w5a)
  • A female can produce up to three or four litters per year. (B430.w2)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • Females give birth to up to four litters per year. (B147)
  • The Snowshoe hare produces between two and five litters per year (B430.w2); produces between one and five litters per year. (B287)
  • "Two litters a year are normal in the far north and in the south at high altitudes; in central parts of its distribution three or four litters are produced." (B605.4.w4)
  • The interlitter interval is usually between 34.4 and 40 days. (B287)
  • Females produce between 5.7 and 17.8 young per year. (B605.4.w4)
  • In a study conducted in central Alberta, Canada, the number of young born per female per year was found to range from 7.3 offspring in 1973 (this was not long after the population had reached a peak) to 17.8 in 1966 (this was the year following a low point in the population numbers). (B147)
LACTATION / MILK PRODUCTION:

General Information

  • Leporids only release milk once in every 24 hour period. (B285.w5b)
  • Leporid milk has a very high fat and protein content, and as such is highly nutritious. Although the lactation period is brief, the milk is pumped into the young at a high speed.(B285.w5b)
  • The lactation period has a duration of between 17 and 23 days. (B285.w5b)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • Various studies have reported young moving to solid food at between 7 and 12 days of age, though immediate feeding upon solid food has also been reported. (B287)
  • Young are weaned between 14 and 30 days. (B287)
  • Young are independent at about 6 weeks of age. (B287)
SEXUAL MATURITY:

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • This species first breeds between 1.2 and 2.3 years of age. (B287)
  • Female
    • First mates in the year of its birth. (B287)
    • Thought to first breed at 7-8 months of age. (B287)
    • Estimated to first breed between 90 and 100 days of age. (B287)
  • Male
    • First breeds between 5 and 7 months of age. (B287)
MALE SEASONAL VARIATION:

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • Montana, USA: Spermatogenesis occurs in this species between February and August. (B287)
  • Rochester, Alberta (Canada): Testes are large between April and July, and small in August. (B287)
  • Mautoulin Island, Ontaria (Canada): Testes are large between May and July, and small between November and early February. (B287)
LONGEVITY / MORTALITY:

General Information

  • Rabbits and hares in the wild live for less than a year on average; a maximum age of 12 years has been recorded in a couple of species. (B285.w5b)
  • "Only a minority of hares survive their first year in the wild, though survivors can reach 5 years; in captivity, hares can live to 6 or 7 years." (B285.w5c)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • A study found only 16% of young Snowshoe hares to survive for a year. (B147)
  • Adult survival was found to be 33% and 58% during two annual periods. (B147)
  • This species is thought to live to approximately five years of age, although a captive individual lived to be six years and nine months old. (B147)

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Natural Diet

Notes

NATURAL DIET:

General Lepus Information

  • Hares mainly eat grasses and herbaceous plants, but do also feed on twigs, buds and bark. (B147)

  • Isolated cases have been reported of hares capturing and eating voles and young lagomorphs. (B147)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • The Snowshoe hare eats a range of woody and succulent plants. (B430.w2)

  • "The food eaten changes from grasses, sedges, dandelions and various herbs in summer, to birch, spruce, willow, tamarack, and pine in winter." (B605.4.w4)

  • During times of peak population densities, willow and aspen can be badly ring-barked by this species, which can lead to a scarcity of food. (B605.4.w4)

QUANTITY EATEN: --

STUDY METHODS: --

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Hibernation / Aestivation

Notes

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • This species is active year-round. (B430.w2)

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Haematology / Biochemistry

Notes

HAEMATOLOGY:

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • See: Normal Haematology Values for Lepus americanus - Snowshoe hare

  • It was noted that red blood cell parameters and total white cell count did not show much change, but that during the period of high population, there was a relative neutrophilia, lymphopaenia and eosinopaenia - possibly related to stress. Compared to free-ranging hares, hares held in captivity for a week before blood sampling showed much higher neutrophilia and lymphopaenia, and similar eosinophilia to those under possible stress due to high population density: 73 +/- 15% neutrophils, 25 +/- 14% lymphocytes and 0.4 +/- 0.7% eosinophils. (J400.66.w1)

BIOCHEMISTRY: --

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Detailed Physiology Notes
(Summary information provided for pertinent species-specific data cross-referenced in WILDPro)

Notes

Note: There is very little data specific to this species so the details below are from general lagomorph or leporid information.

METABOLISM (TEMPERATURE): --

RESPIRATORY SYSTEM (RESPIRATION): --

CIRCULATORY SYSTEM (PULSE/HEART RATE): --

GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM (FAECES AND GUT MOTILITY):

General Information

  • Lagomorphs have digestive systems which are adapted for processing large quantities of vegetation. (B285.w5a)
  • Lagomorphs are well adapted for obtaining the greatest possible value from their food. They produce two types of faecal material: moist pellets and dry pellets. The moist pellets are expelled and then eaten (a behaviour known as coprophagy or caecotrophy (B285.w5a)); this is done with little or no chewing, and as a result the majority of the food passes through the digestive tract twice (this is thought to have the same function as 'chewing the cud' in ruminants). The dry faecal pellets are not eaten. (B147)

URINARY SYSTEM (URINE): --

CHROMOSOMES:

  • All the Lepus species have 48 chromosomes. (B605.4.w4)

MUSCULO-SKELETAL SYSTEM: --

SPECIAL SENSES AND VOCALISATIONS:

General Information

  • All lagomorphs use scent products secreted from special glands. (B285.w5a) These glands are located under the chin and in the groin, and are believed to play a key role in sexual communication, as well as in signalling social status in some gregarious species. (B285.w5b)
  • Whereas pikas tend to be more vocal, rabbits and hares rely strongly on scent rather than sound as a means of communication. (B285.w5b)
  • High-pitched distress squeals are emitted by leporids when captured by a predator. (B285.w5b, B430.w2)
  • The North American leporids have large ears with highly-developed hearing, an adaptation which allows them to detect predators when foraging in open habitats. (B430.w2)
  • Hares communicate with each other by drumming their feet. (B147)
  • Deep grumbling has been reported in Lepus species, and shrill calls are emitted when the animal is in pain. (B285.w5c)
  • "When seeking the young for nursing, females call the young and are answered." (B147)

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Behaviour

Feeding Behaviour

Notes

General Information
  • Lagomorphs are well adapted for obtaining the greatest possible value from their food. They produce two types of faecal material: moist pellets and dry pellets. The moist pellets are expelled and then eaten; this is done with little or no chewing, and as a result the majority of the food passes through the digestive tract twice (this is thought to have the same function as 'chewing the cud' in ruminants). The dry pellets are not eaten. (B147)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • Often forages in forest openings. (B430.w2)
  • "The food eaten changes from grasses, sedges, dandelions and various herbs in summer, to birch, spruce, willow, tamarack, and pine in winter." (B605.4.w4)

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Parental Behaviour

Notes

General Information
  • Male leporids are not generally involved in care of the young. However, if adult females attack young leporids, males will intervene, a behaviour known as 'policing'. (B285.w5b)
  • Even maternal care of the young is not particularly prominent in leporids, hence this reproductive strategy is known as 'absentee parentism'. (B285.w5a)
  • Leporids demonstrate an unusual system of nursing; the young are suckled only briefly (often less than five minutes) just once every 24 hours. (B285.w5b)
  • It is thought that the lack of social contact between the mother and her young is a strategy which diminishes the chances of attracting the attention of predators. (B285.w5b)
  • The entrances to breeding tunnels are carefully re-sealed following each bout of suckling. (B285.w5b)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • It has been found that female Snowshoe hares only visit their young once a day at twilight, for a short period of merely 5-10 minutes. (B147)
  • The female hides her young in various places during the day, though the young come together shortly before the female returns. (B147)
  • "Females do no excavate dens, but rather leave young unattended in sheltered areas and visit them daily." (B430.w2)
  • " Leverets gather at a nursing place one to two hours after sunset and suckle as soon as the female arrives for two to five minutes." (B605.4.w4)

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Social Behaviour / Territoriality / Predation / Learning

Notes

SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR:

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • The Snowshoe hare is a social species. (B285.w5c)
  • "Several adults may live in close proximity and share the same forms, and as many as 25 hares have been seen in a clearing at night." (B285.w5c)
  • Both wild and captive populations of Snowshoe hares have been reported to demonstrate a heirarchical social organisation. (B147)
  • "There is a clear dominance heirarchy at feeding stations and in the wild." (B605.4.w4)
  • During the breeding season in summer, the females are more dominant, whereas in the winter males become more dominant. (B605.4.w4)

PREDATION: --

PREDATOR AVOIDANCE:

General Information

  • Hares will run out into open areas and use their speed in order to avoid predators. (B285.w5b, B605.4.w4)
  • Speeds of up to 72 km/h (45 mph) have been reported for hares. (B285.w5b)
  • "Instead of seeking cover, hares rely on their well-developed running ability to escape from danger: also on camouflage, by flattening on vegetation." (B285.w5c)

POPULATION DENSITIES:

General Information

  • Drastic, cyclic population density fluctuations occur in northern Lepus species. (B147)
  • Predator population cycles follow Lepus cycles; once predator populations have crashed, and vegetation has had the chance to regenerate, hare population numbers are able to start increasing once more. (B147)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • Population densities of this species in Canada exhibit drastic cyclic fluctuations, with peaks occurring every 6-13 years, though usually every 8 and 10 years. Such peaks do not occur in all areas simultaneously. (B147)
  • During a full cyclic fluctuation, the range of densities extends from 2.5/sq km, to up to 1,300/sq km, with reports of up to 4,000/sq km in north-western Canada. (B147)
  • Central Alberta:

    April: 

    • 1962: 254/sq km (B147)
    • 1965: 22/sq km (B147)
    • 1971: 510/sq km (B147)
    • 1975: 4/sq km (B147)

    November:

    • "November densities, subsequent to the reproductive season, were higher, reaching a maximum of 2,300/sq km." (B147)

A further peak occurred in 1980, followed by a low point in 1983. (B147)

  • It is thought that initial population declines are a result of the onset of food shortage in late winter (B147, B605.4.w4) which, when coupled with an overabundance of predators (B430.w2, B605.4.w4), cause the cyclic fluctuations. During peak years, or in years in which the decline starts early, reproduction drops drastically, thus increasing the ratio of predators to hares. (B147)
  • Following this, an elevated level of predator pressure on the hares causes their numbers to drop still lower. (B147)
  • The cyclic fluctuations in population densities are known as the '10-year cycle', and occur over much of the species' range. (B430.w2)
  • "Canada and the United States do not usually undergo such dramatic fluctuations; instead they tend to vary less or remain stable from year to year." (B430.w2)
  • When the scrub and other vegetation becomes dense following fire, population numbers are at a peak, whereas once the forest matures, population numbers decline as the ground cover becomes over-shaded. (B605.4.w4)
  • The cyclic populations seen in this species have peak densities of up to 300 times higher than those of the troughs, although most fluctuations will peak at about 10- to 30- fold. Such peaks occur every eight to eleven years. (B605.4.w4)
  • "Cycles are synchronous over wide geographic regions." (B605.4.w4)
  • Peaks of 31 animals per hectare have been recorded for this species in Alberta. (B605.4.w4)
  • Peaks in Snowshoe hare population numbers have a marked and significant effect upon both the vegetation and the predators within their habitat. (B605.4.w4)
  • Other studies have reported no food shortages prior to population fluctuations, and suggest that predation may well be the only cause. (B605.4.w4)

HOME RANGES AND DISTANCES TRAVELLED:

General Information (Lepus)

  • "Habitat type has a marked effect on home-range size within each species, but differences also occur between species." (B285.w5c)
  • Lepus species vary greatly in their home range sizes, with some species having home ranges of only 4-20 hectares, and others exceeding 300 hectares. (B285.w5c)
  • Areas within a couple of metres of forms may be defended, but home ranges often overlap, often with common feeding grounds. (B285.w5c)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • The Snowshoe hare generally covers approximately 1.6 hectares per day. (B147)
  • "Overall home range is about 10 ha. for males and 7.6 ha. for females, but when food is scarce individuals may wander as far as 8km." (B147)
  • The home range of this species has been reported to be smaller in areas of thick cover, with averages of 5.9-13 hectares noted in various studies. (B605.4.w4)
  • Male home ranges are larger than those of the females, and adult home ranges are larger than those of juveniles. (B605.4.w4)

TERRITORIALITY:

General Information

  • The majority of hares and rabbits are non-territorial; some hares occupy home ranges of up to 300 ha (740 acres). Ranges of individuals may overlap in favoured feeding grounds. (B285.w5b)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • "Several adults may live in close proximity and share the same forms, and as many as 25 hares have been seen in a clearing at night." (B147)

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Sexual Behaviour

Notes

General Information
  • All lagomorphs use scent products secreted from special glands. (B285.w5a) These glands are located under the chin and in the groin, and are believed to play a key role in sexual communication, as well as in signalling social status in some gregarious species. (B285.w5b)
  • Male Lepus become bolder during the mating season, and engage in fights with other males, and pursue females. (B147)
  • Male Lepus fight by using boxing motions with their forefeet and kicking with their hind feet. (B147)
  • Males often bite and kick the females, often leading to serious injury. (B147)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • This species is promiscuous. (B605.4.w4)
  • Males are involved in more intense and more frequent interactions than females. (B605.4.w4)

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Activity Patterns, Self-grooming and Navigation

Notes

ACTIVITY PATTERNS:

General Information

  • All the lagomorphs are terrestrial. (B147)

SELF-GROOMING: --

CIRCADIAN RHYTHM:

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • This species is mainly nocturnal and crepuscular, and takes shelter under logs, bushes or stumps during the day (B147, B430.w2). At night it uses a complex network of runways which cut through grass and undergrowth in order to move about. (B147, B430.w2)
  • This species is frequently seen around dawn or dusk. (B430.w2)
  • The Snowshoe hare is a nocturnal species (B430.w2, B605.4.w4), which forages after sundown. (B430.w2)

SPEED OF MOVEMENT:

General Information

  • The North American leporids are able to escape predators by taking instant flight at high speed. (B430.w2)
  • Leporids can run at speeds of up to 80 km/hr. (B147)

NAVIGATION: --

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Habitat and Range

General Habitat Type

Notes

Specific Lepus americanus Information
  • This species is found in open forest. (B51)
  • Generally lives in evergreen forests. (B147)
  • The Snowshoe hare is found in various habitat types. (B430.w2)
    • In the southern parts of its range, it can be found in:
      • Alder swamps. (B430.w2)
      • Aspen "bluffs". (B430.w2)
      • Hardwood forests. (B430.w2)
    • In the northern parts of its range, it is found in:
      • Mixed forests. (B430.w2)
      • Evergreen forests. (B430.w2)
  • This species lives under dense cover, such as dense thickets, though makes use of forest clearings in order to forage. (B430.w2)
  • This species is not found in the tundra of northern Canada; in this area, Lepus arcticus - Arctic hare is found. (B430.w2)
  • The primary stronghold of this species lies south of the conifer belt. In this area, the Snowshoe hare can be found in mixed hardwood, cut-over forest, and in swamps. (B605.4.w4)
  • "The snowshoe hare seems reluctant to cross open country and is not found as a relict species in small isolated patches of forest." (B605.4.w4)
  • The Snowshoe hare makes use of a wide variety of forest types, including:
    • Conifers. (B605.4.w4)
    • Aspen. (B605.4.w4)
    • Birch. (B605.4.w4)
    • Beech. (B605.4.w4)
    • Maple. (B605.4.w4)
    • Mixed hardwoods. (B605.4.w4)
  • The Snowshoe hare shows a "marked preference for subclimax forest, transition zones, and swamp edges; hence fires are important modifiers." (B605.4.w4)

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Nests / Burrows / Shelters

Notes

General Information
  • Hares tend to reside in caves or crevices in rocks. (B430.w2)
  • Lepus species do not usually dig burrows or live in them, favouring fleeing rather than hiding as a mode of escape. (B147)
  • The majority of hares rest underneath vegetation, generally lying within shallow dips in the ground (soil, snow or grass) known as 'forms'. (B147)
  • The majority of Lepus species live on the surface, but some do dig burrows or use tunnels and holes made by other animals. (B285.w5c)
  • Uses 'shelter forms' (small depressions within the ground or vegetation) to rest in during the day. Or may simply rest next to a plant. (B430.w2)

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • At night it uses a complex network of runways which cut through grass and undergrowth in order to move about. (B147)
  • During the summer months, this species clips down the vegetation along the runways in order to make travelling through the networks easier. In the winter, for the same reason, they pack down the snow. (B147)

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Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Notes

Specific Lepus americanus Information
  • This species is found in Canada, and the North and West USA. (B51)
  • The Snowshoe hare is found in southern and central Alaska (USA) to the southern and central coasts of Hudson Bay along to Newfoundland and Anacosti Island (where it was introduced) (Canada), and south to the southern Appalachians, south Michigan, North Dakota, north-central New Mexico, south-central Utah and east-central California. (B607.w20)
  • "Alaska, coast of Hudson Bay, Newfoundland, S Appalachians, S Michigan, N Dakota, N New Mexico, Utah, E California." (B285.w5c)
  • "Alaska, Canada, northern and mountainous parts of the conterminous United States as far south as central California, northern New Mexico, and eastern Tennessee." (B147) 
  • Various efforts have been made to transplant Snowshoe hares; their introduction on Newfoundland between 1864 and 1876 led to the decline of Lepus arcticus - Arctic hare which later became restricted to the western upland area of the island. (B147)
  • This species is found across most of Canada and northeastern USA, throughout Alaska, and southwards through the Rockies into Utah and New Mexico. (B430.w2)
  • This species is not found in the tundra of northern Canada; in this area, Lepus arcticus - Arctic hare is found. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4)
  • Of all the New World Hares, the Snowshoe hare is the most widespread species. Its distribution stretches from Alaska to Newfoundland, and southwards into the USA down the Coastal Range, the Rocky Mountains, and the Appalachians, all the way to mid California, northern areas of New Mexico and Tennessee. (B605.4.w4)
  • Distribution of various subspecies:
    • Lepus americanus americanus (B605.4.w4) - central Canada. (B430.w2)
    • Leous americanus bairdii - northwestern USA. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus americanus cascadensis - southern British Columbia and Washington. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus americanus columbiensis (B605.4.w4) - Rocky Mountains of Alberta and British Columbia. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus americanus dalli - northwestern Canada and Alaska. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus americanus klamathensis - south-central Oregon. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus americanus oregonus - eastern Oregon. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus americanus pallidus  - west-central British Columbia. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus americanus phaeonotus - western Great Lakes region. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus americanus pineus - Washington and Idaho. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus americanus seclusus - Wyoming. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus americanus struthopus - northeastern States, Maritime Provinces and Gaspe Peninsula; Newfoundland (introduced). (B430.w2)
    • Lepus americanus tahoensis - Nevada and California. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus americanus virginianus - southern Quebec and Ontario, Massachusetts, Tennessee, North Carolina. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus americanus washingtoni - western Washington. (B430.w2)

Geographic sympatry

  • Around the treeline, the ranges of the Snowshoe hare and Lepus arcticus - Arctic hare sometimes overlap, though "the two species rarely occur in the same locale, snowshoe hares preferring to remain where forest cover is present."  (B430.w2)

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Conservation

Species variation

Notes

Specific Lepus americanus Information
  • "Taxonomically the snowshoe hare is very distinct from other Lepus [Lepus], in size, proportions, and coloring, as well as in behavior and habitat requirements." (B605.4.w4)
Currently recognised subspecies include:
  • Lepus americanus americanus: includes Lepus americanus columbiensis, Lepus americanus hudsonius, Lepus americanus nanus, Lepus americanus pallidus, Lepus americanus phaeonotus
  • Lepus americanus bairdii: includes Lepus americanus pineus; Lepus americanus seclusus; Lepus americanus setzeri.
  • Lepus americanus cascadensis: includes Lepus americanus klamathensis; Lepus americanus oregonus; Lepus americanus tahoensis.
  • Lepus americanus dalli: includes Lepus americanus macfarlani; Lepus americanus niediecki; Lepus americanus saliens.
  • Lepus americanus struthopus.
  • Lepus americanus virginianus: includes Lepus americanus borealis; Lepus americanus wardi; Lepus americanus washingtoni.

(B607.w20) - NB: names in non-bold font are reported as synonyms for that particular subspecies from this reference.

Previously recognised subspecies include:

  • Lepus americanus americanus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4)
  • Lepus americanus columbiensis. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4)
  • Lepus americanus khamathensis. (B605.4.w4)
  • Lepus americanus pallidus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4)
  • Lepus americanus phaeonotus. (B430.w2, B605.4.w4)
  • Lepus americanus washingtonii. (B605.4.w4)

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Conservation Status

Notes

WILD POPULATION - IMPORTANCE:

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • This species is locally common. (B285.w5c, B430.w2)
  • The native Snowshoe hare population of Virginia is considered endangered by some, as a result of the destruction of much of its habitat by logging. (B147)
  • Status has been described as "common, limited". (B430.w2)
  • "The snowshoe hare is clearly a most important animal, as game, as a pest of forestry and as a major component of the ten year cycle, indirectly and directly affecting the food supply and number of predators present in their ecosystem." (B605.4.w4)
  • In North America, the total biomass of the Snowshoe hare is 2.7 million tons, which is more than one million tons greater than that of any other Lepus species within the region. (B605.4.w4)

GENERAL LEGISLATION: --

CITES LISTING: --

RED-DATA LIST STATUS:

Specific Lepus americanus Information 

  • IUCN - Lower Risk (least concern). (W2.Apr08.w5)

THREATS: --

PEST STATUS / PEST POPULATIONS:

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • Is considered to be a pest in the forestry industry. (B605.4.w4)

CAPTIVE POPULATIONS:

General Information

  • "Although wild hares rarely become accustomed to humans, young that are raised in captivity can make good pets." (B430.w2)

TRADE AND USE:

Specific Lepus americanus Information

  • The Snowshoe hare has been described as "the most important small game animal in Canada", and it is known to be a main source of food in remote areas for Indians, homesteaders and trappers. (B147)
  • This species is an important game species. (B605.4.w4)

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