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CONTENTS

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

Lepus arcticus - Arctic hare (Click photographs/illustrations for full picture & further details)

 

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)

  • Alpine hare. (B430.w2)
  • American Arctic hare. (B430.w2, B51)
  • Canadian arctic hare. (B430.w2)
  • Greenland hare. (B430.w2)
  • Labrador hare. (B430.w2)
  • Polar hare. (B430.w2)
  • Ka-choh. (B430.w2)
  • Okollik. (B430.w2)
  • Ookalik. (B430.w2)
  • Oo-ka-lik. (B430.w2)
  • Ukkulirk. (B430.w2)
  • Lepus andersoni. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus banksicola. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus canus. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus glacialis. (B430.w2, B607.w20)
  • Lepus timidus. (B51)
  • Lepus arcticus andersoni. (B605.4.w4, B430.w2)
  • Lepus arcticus arcticus. (B605.4.w4, B430.w2)
  • Lepus arcticus bangsii. (B605.4.w4, B430.w2, B607.w20)
  • Lepus arcticus banksicola. (B605.4.w4, B430.w2)
  • Lepus arcticus groenlandicus. (B605.4.w4, B430.w2, B607.w20)
  • Lepus arcticus hubbardi. (B605.4.w4, B430.w2, B607.w20)
  • Lepus arcticus hyperboreus. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus arcticus labradorius. (B605.4.w4, B430.w2, B607.w20)
  • Lepus arcticus monstrabilis. (B605.4.w4, B430.w2, B607.w20)
  • Lepus arcticus persimilis. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus arcticus porsildi. (B605.4.w4, B430.w2, B607.w20)
  • Lepus arcticus tschuktschorum. (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 arcticus Information

  • This species has been described as a large, compact hare. (B605.4.w4)
  • This hare is white in winter except for the ears. Southern but not northern subspecies turn grey in summer. The fronts of the ears are blackish while the backs are white but with black tips. (J469.457.w1)

Newborn: Furred at birth, with grey upperparts and white underparts. (J469.457.w1)

Similar Species

Sexual Dimorphism

Specific Lepus arcticus Information
  • No sexual dimorphism has been reported for this species. (B430.w2)

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References

Species Authors & Referees

Author: Kathryn Pintus BSc MSc MSc (V.w115); Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)

ORGANISATIONS

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

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Husbandry Information

Notes

  • --

Management Techniques

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Appearance / Morphology

Measurement & Weight

Notes

LENGTH
Adult:

  • Average for this species: 606 mm. (B430.w2)
  • Range: 558-633 mm. (B430.w2)
  • Lepus arcticus andersoni: 633 mm (J469.457.w1)
  • Lepus arcticus hubbardi: 626 mm (J469.457.w1)
  • Lepus arcticus labradorius: 558 mm (J469.457.w1)
  • Lepus arcticus monstrabilis: 607 mm (J469.457.w1)

Newborns: --

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

WEIGHT
Adult:

  • Average for this species: 4,400 g. (B430.w2)
  • Range: 2,500 - 6,800 g. (B430.w2)
  • 4 - 5 kg. (B605.4.w4)
  • Axel Heiberg Island, Northwest Territories: males 4.1 kg summer, 4.0 kg winter; females 4.5 kg summer, 3.9 kg winter. (J469.457.w1)
  • Ellesmere Island, Northwest Territories: 4 kg average, range 2.5 - 4.5 kg. (J469.457.w1)
  • Greenland, 3.2 - 6.3 kg. (J469.457.w1)

Newborns: --

GROWTH RATE 

  • Arctic hare leverets gain about 45 - 50 g per day in the first month. (J469.457.w1)

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Head and Neck

Notes

GENERAL HEAD STRUCTURE:
Adult:

General Information

  • All lagomorphs have large ears relative to their body size. (B285.w5a)
  • Almost all Lepus species have long ears. (B147)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • The skull is robust. (J469.457.w1)
  • Ear length:
    • Lepus arcticus andersoni: 76 mm (dried). (J469.457.w1)
    • Lepus arcticus hubbardi: 88 mm (dried). (J469.457.w1)
    • Lepus arcticus monstrabilis: 110 mm (dried). (J469.457.w1)

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)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • The Arctic hare has modified incisors, which is uses to feed on small, snow-covered Arctic plants. (B430.w2)
  • The incisors have a nearly even cutting edge. The upper incisors have a conspicuous shallow groove anteriorly near the inner margins and a second groove on their sides. The peg teeth have two grooves on the posterior face. In Greenland, the incisors are more protruberent. (J469.457.w1)

EYES:
Adult:

  • 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)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • Yellowish-brown eyes, darkest on the other edges, with a slightly oval pupil. (J469.457.w1)

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)
  • Almost all Lepus species have large hind feet. (B147)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • The large feet are padded with a heavy brush of hair. The claws are strong, well-adapted to digging through snow; those of the forefeet are long, curved and dark brown, those of the hindfeet are broader, and pale tipped. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)
  • Hindfoot length:
    • Lepus arcticus andersoni: 159 mm. (J469.457.w1)
    • Lepus arcticus hubbardi: 158 mm. (J469.457.w1)
    • Lepus arcticus labradorius: 153 mm. (J469.457.w1)
    • Lepus arcticus monstrabilis: 146 mm. (J469.457.w1)

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Tail

Notes

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

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • Average for this species: 67 mm. (B430.w2)
  • Range: 45-100 mm. (B430.w2)
  • Lepus arcticus andersoni: 61 mm (J469.457.w1)
  • Lepus arcticus hubbardi: 100 mm. (J469.457.w1)
  • Lepus arcticus labradorius: 45 mm. (J469.457.w1)
  • Lepus arcticus monstrabilis: 61 mm. (J469.457.w1)

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Skin / Coat / Pelage

Notes

Adult:

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • The pelage of the Arctic hare changes colour with the seasons; during the winter the fur is long, soft and white, except for the tips of the ears which are black. In the summer, southern but not northern subspecies have grey upperparts. (B430.w2, (J469.457.w1)
  • The fur is white all the way down to the base of the hairs. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)
  • The spring moult starts on the face and feet, progressing to the ears, legs, shoulders and finally the back. (J469.457.w1)
  • "During the molt to summer pelage, it removes loose tufts of hair by rolling in the snow, often leaving loose tufts of hair scattered on the ground or clinging to vegetation." (B430.w2)

Adult Colour variations: --

Newborn / Juvenile:

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

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • The juvenile pelage is blackish grey on the upperparts, with black ear tips, pale buff cheeks and white underparts, posterior ear margins, tail and a spot on the lower lip. (J469.457.w1)
    • By the time they are a third grown, the fur is whitish. (J469.457.w1)
    • By late July (nearly fully grown), they are white with mouse-grey ear tips and a small streak from the apex of the head to the snout which is also mouse-grey. (J469.457.w1)

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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:

General Information

  • The majority of Lepus species have a long breeding season. (B147)
  • Southern Lepus species breed throughout the year. (B285.w5c)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • The mating season is usually April and May. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)
OESTRUS / OVULATION:

General Information

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • Ovulation takes place at the beginning of May. (B605.4.w4)
    • newfoundland: average conception date 19th April; Axel Heiberg Island, ovulation about 1st May. (J469.457.w1)
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. (B147, B285.w5c)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • The gestation period for this species is approximately 53 days. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)
  • Gestation is approximately 50 days. (B147)
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)
  • Leverets remain hidden within dense vegetation, and the female visits them in order to nurse them. (B147)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • Young of this species are born in a nest, which is often located in a well-sheltered area or between rocks. (B430.w2)
  • Birth occurs late May to July. (J469.457.w1)
  • Young are usually born between April and September. (B147)
  • Young are first seen towards the end of June. (B605.4.w4)
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, B285.w5b, 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 arcticus Information

  • Born furred. (J469.457.w1)
  • Leverets of a litter sometimes gather in a "rosette", heads in the centre. (J469.457.w1)
  • By three days old, able to slink away to hide among stones. (J469.457.w1)
  • The leverets are nursed at intervals of approximately 18-20 hours, with each bout lasting between one and four minutes. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)
    • The leverets congregate at the nursing site 20 - 90 minutes before the female appears. (J469.457.w1)
    • Sometimes one or more leverets is late and misses nursing. (J469.457.w1)
  • "They are fed by the mother at 18 hour intervals, with suckling bouts lasting only 79-128 seconds." (B605.4.w4)
  • On Axel Heiberg Island, young leverets disperse and spend most of the time in the first two weeks hidden behind rocks except when nursing or nibbling vegetation. (J469.457.w1)
  • At about two or three weeks of age, the young leave their mother for the first time. This usually coincides with the time their coats turn white. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)
  • The leverets quickly disperse after nursing, initially only a short distance, but moving as far as 1 km from the nursing site by mid-August. (J469.457.w1)
  • By three weeks old, "nursery bands" of up to 20 leverets form. (J469.457.w1)
  • The length of time for which the young accompany the female after suckling increases gradually, reaching 1.9 hours during August; they may remain with one another for longer periods. (J469.457.w1)
  • By mid-July they are mainly eating vegetation but may still suckle. (J469.457.w1)
  • The young leverets are weaned at about eight or nine weeks of age. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)
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 arcticus Information

  • In Newfoundland, the average litter size is three young. (B285.w5c, B605.4.w4); this population has the lowest reproductive rate of any hare population. (B285.w5c)
  • The average litter size for this species is five young, although it can range from two to eight. (B430.w2)
  • On Axel Heiberg Island, the average litter size was five, but litters of up to eight individuals have been reported on Ellesmere Island and Banks Island. (B605.4.w4)
  • The average litter size is 5.4 individuals. (B147)
  • Range two to eight (one female carried a single young), average five or six. (J469.457.w1)
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 arcticus Information

  • In Newfoundland, Arctic hares produce one litter a year. This population has the lowest reproductive rate of any hare population. (B285.w5c)
  • This species produces one litter per year. (B430.w2)
  • One or two litters per year; usually one. (J469.457.w1)
  • In the far north of its range, this species only produces one litter per year, although in other areas such as Newfoundland two litters may be produced. (B605.4.w4)
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)
SEXUAL MATURITY:

General Information

  • Most species of lagomorph reach sexual maturity relatively early. (B285.w5a)
  • Lepus young do not usually breed in their first year of life. (B147)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • Breed for the first time as yearlings. (J469.457.w1)
MALE SEASONAL VARIATION:

General Information

  • Testes are intra-abdominal outside the breeding season, descending into the scrotum during the breeding season. (B147)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • Testes enlarge in April, regressing again by mid-September. (J469.457.w1)
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 arcticus Information

  • Survivorship of first-year juveniles is 0.15 and of adults, 0.78. (J469.457.w1)

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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 arcticus Information

  • The primary food source throughout the year is woody plants. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)

  • Mosses, lichens, berries and buds of Empetrum, bark, roots and young blooms of willows; other foods include mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna) and various grasses. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)

  • This species eats a wide variety of foods during the summer, but its primary foods are willows and grasses. (B430.w2)

  • "Willows are the main species consumed in all seasons and make up 95 percent of the winter diet." (B430.w2)

  • "In summer, meadows of grasses, sedges, Dryas, and willow are favored and in winter arctic willow can form up to 95% of the diet." (B605.4.w4)

  • The Arctic hare will eat meat and fish, and traps baited for foxes often attract this Lepus species. (B285.w5c, J469.457.w1)

  • They also feed on the stomach contents of eviscerated caribou (Rangifer tarandus - Reindeer). (J469.457.w1)

  • Eat snow to get water. (J469.457.w1)

QUANTITY EATEN: --

STUDY METHODS: --

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Hibernation / Aestivation

Notes

--

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Haematology / Biochemistry

Notes

HAEMATOLOGY: --

BIOCHEMISTRY: --

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

Notes

METABOLISM (TEMPERATURE):

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • Normal body temperature 38.9 C. (J469.457.w1)
  • Basal metabolic rate 0.36 cm O2/g/h. (J469.457.w1)
  • Minimal thermal conductance 0.010 cm O2/g/h/C. (J469.457.w1)
  • Daily energy consumption 262 - 233 kcal/day at -24 - 12.5 C; this hare has a low surface area to volume ratio and good insulation. (J469.457.w1)

RESPIRATORY SYSTEM (RESPIRATION): --

CIRCULATORY SYSTEM (PULSE/HEART RATE): --

GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM (FAECES AND GUT MOTILITY):

  • 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 (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 pellets are not eaten. (B147)
  • Lagomorphs have digestive systems which are adapted for processing large quantities of vegetation. (B285.w5a)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • Faecal pellets 19 x 17 x 11 mm, approximately spherical and flattened. (J469.457.w1)

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 chins 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)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • Females sometimes give a low growl when approaching the nursing place. (J469.457.w1)
  • They may growl or scream when trapped. (J469.457.w1)
  • A young leveret, picked up, gave "a loud, nasal "how, how, how" to which its mother responded, dashing up. (J469.457.w1)

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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 faecal pellets are not eaten. (B147)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • These hares always face uphill while eating. (J469.457.w1)
    • "Arctic hares always face up a slope; to go lower on the slope, the hare runs down, then turns to face up-slope again." (B430.w2)
  • The Arctic hare digs in snow with only its front feet, and remains in one patch for a while. Before totally exhausting the vegetation (lichens and willow twigs) that it has uncovered, the Arctic hare moves on to a different patch. (B430.w2)
  • In soft snow, the Arctic hare uses its nose or forelegs to scrape it away from vegetation, whereas if the snow has a hard crust, the hare makes a hole in the crust by stamping on it with its forelegs, and then subsequently pushes away pieces of snow with its nose. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)
    • "The sound made when an arctic hare beats or drums against the snow crust in search of food is similar to that of a distant drum roll." (B430.w2)
  • During the winter months, snow cover and wind exposure become important factors in the search for food; several hundred hares will travel together in a herd in order to find food. One such herd on Axel Heiberg Island consisted of 250-300 individuals. (B605.4.w4)

  • To eat willow, these hares bite of a small piece, hold this in their mouth and bite with the incisors. (J469.457.w1)

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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 arcticus Information

  • Give birth into a nest - usually well-sheltered, under/between rocks, but sometimes simply a depression in tundra mosses and grasses. (J469.457.w1)
  • The female does not leave her young during the first two or three days following birth. (B430.w2)
  • The female approaches the nursing area by one of a few routes, usually with a set path for about the last 100m. Suckling generally occurs directly after her arrival. (J469.457.w1)
  • The female sometimes gives low growls when approaching the nursing area. (J469.457.w1)
  • As time goes on the female may stop as the young approach, so that the exact spot for nursing gradually changes. (J469.457.w1)
  • When nursing, the female typically sits upright, ears erect and eyes open, her hind feet spread wide under her haunches, her front legs fully extended and her front feet rather far apart. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)
  • The female grooms her young during nursing; this becomes less frequent as they get older. (J469.457.w1)
  • The female ends the nursing bout by standing up, turning and hopping away from the leverets. (J469.457.w1)
  • In the first weeks she remains close to the nursing site after nursing; later she quickly moves away after nursing. (J469.457.w1)
  • Sometimes one or more leverets is late and misses nursing. (J469.457.w1)
  • In the first four weeks, a female often will allow late suckling by a leveret which was initially absent, starting up to nine minutes after the end of group nursing. (J469.457.w1)
  • One instance has been seen of a female allowing renursing by a group of leverets. (J469.457.w1)
  • By the time leverets are three weeks old they are found in groups called "nursery bands" containing up to 20 animals; females will be found nearby and sometimes in such a group, but not necessarily nursing young. (J469.457.w1)
  • Usually the male leaves the female after she gives birth but sometimes he stays nearby. A male has been seen to assist the female in defending her young against a fox. (J469.457.w1)

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Social Behaviour / Territoriality / Predation / Learning

Notes

SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR:

General Information

  • Hares communicate with each other by drumming their feet. (B147)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • The Arctic hare is usually a solitary species, but groups of 100-300 individuals have been known outside the breeding season. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)
    • In these groups, generally at least one hare is awake and alert when most are asleep. (J469.457.w1)
  • This species has been known to exhibit 'flocking' behaviour, which involves many individuals travelling together in synchronised motion. Lepus timidus - Mountain hare is also known to exhibit this behaviour, but to a lesser extent. (B605.4.w4)
  • When young hares reach approximately half the size of a fully grown adult, they group together in herds of up to 20 individuals, which adult hares join later on. "They are usually extremely tame and allow close approach, although herds of young hares may become very wild if a wolf [Canis lupus - Wolf] attacks, running two kilometres." (B605.4.w4)
  • "The arctic hare may be an important competitor of muskoxen [Ovibos moschatus - Musk ox] and caribou [Rangifer tarandus - Reindeer] in the winter, when all three species feed on willows." (B430.w2)
  • Not much is known of the behaviour of Arctic hares in the winter, though the herds may follow musk oxen, with hares grazing on plants which have become accessible due to the snow being kicked away by the musk oxen. (B605.4.w4)
  • While feeding, hares may "sneer" at one another but do not bite. (J469.457.w1)
  • Fighting, when it occurs, involves snapping at one another then scratching with the forefeet claws; they sometimes stand on their hind legs and box. (J469.457.w1)
  • A male and female sometimes sit licking each other and may scratch each other with their forepaws. (J469.457.w1)
  • Adults are dominant over juveniles. (J469.457.w1)

PREDATION:

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

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)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • Young Arctic hares are very difficult to spot due to their camouflage; in open areas, young hares squat close to the ground in order to avoid being seen. (B605.4.w4)
  • Leverets hide among stones if danger is spotted; they remain motionless, and his coupled with their grey colouration makes them difficult for predators to see. (B430.w2)
  • There have been reports in the Canadian high Arctic of this species running away from predators in an upright position on their hind feet. However it is not known whether other populations of Arctic hares exhibit this behaviour or not. (B605.4.w4)
  • "The agility of the arctic hare protects it so well that camouflage is of little importance during the short Arctic summer." (B430.w2)
  • During the summer months, adult Arctic hares have been seen sitting within shallow forms either on gravel ridges or slopes. These forms are usually located near a large rock, which acts as cover for the hare. (B605.4.w4)
  • "When disturbed, it stands erect on its hind legs, forefeet tucked close to its body and hops about until the source of danger is located." (B430.w2)
  • They may double-back on their own trail for 4.5 - 9.0 m, followed by a leap off to one side; doubling back as far as 300 m has been known. (J469.457.w1)

POPULATION DENSITIES:

General Information (Lepus)

  • 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 arcticus Information

  • Herds of 250-300 individuals have been reported to cover an area of 35 km2 in the winter on Axel Heiberg Island. (B605.4.w4)
  • Arctic hares spread out from herds to breed in the summer months; this makes peak densities appear high, especially as the hares are large, and their white fur is easily spotted against the snow-free ground. Some large areas may contain no hares at all. Numbers also vary on a year to year basis. (B605.4.w4)
  • Reports have been made for Banks Island of 100-200 hares living in an area of five square miles in a valley near Sachs Harbor, and a density of approximately 0.5 individuals per square mile was found on Kugong Island where this species is most common. (B605.4.w4)
  • A population density of one hare per square kilometre was found in Newfoundland, though a population which was introduced on Brunette Island in 1969 attained a density of one individual per hectare within ten years. (B605.4.w4)

HOME RANGES AND DISTANCES TRAVELLED:

General Lepus Information

  • "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 arcticus Information

  • In Newfoundland, female Arctic hares were found to have summer home ranges of 52-69 hectares, whereas the males had summer home ranges of 116-155 hectares. (B285.w5c, J469.457.w1)
  • Home range has been said to be difficult to determine for this species, as herds of 250-300 individuals have been reported to cover an area of 35 km2 in the winter on Axel Heiberg Island. (B605.4.w4)

TERRITORIALITY:

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

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • During the breeding season each pair holds a small territory. (J469.457.w1)

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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 arcticus Information

  • These hares form pairs in the breeding season. (J469.457.w1)
  • The male follows the female constantly. (J469.457.w1)
  • During copulation the male bites the female on the neck and back such that she bleeds, as well as loose fur (since this occurs during the moult) being released. (J469.457.w1)
  • Following copulation, the male cleans his penis then sits quietly for about half an hour. (J469.457.w1)

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Activity Patterns, Self-grooming and Navigation

Notes

ACTIVITY PATTERNS:

General Information

  • All the lagomorphs are terrestrial. (B147)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • Often sit by a large stone when resting. (J469.457.w1)
  • Burrow into snow for protection from extreme cold in winter, otherwise use the lee of a rock, or a depression in snow, for shelter. (J469.457.w1)

SELF-GROOMING: --

CIRCADIAN RHYTHM:

General Information

  • Hares and rabbits are generally at their most active at dusk or at night. (B430.w2)
  • Hares are, on the whole, nocturnal species, although some are known to be more active at twilight, and others are most active during the cooler parts of the day. (B147)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • When the sun is high, rests in the middle of the day. In winter when it is dark, there is no fixed resting time. (J469.457.w1)
  • Sometimes use the shade of boulders or a rock crevice for shelter from the heat of the sun, also settle in the sunlight. (J469.457.w1)
  • Generally feed in morning and evening, moving to stay in the sun, if available. (J469.457.w1)

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)

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • Usually moves in a series of four-legged hops, each hop carrying the hare about 1.2 meters. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)
  • Hopping on the hind feet only has been reported. (J469.457.w1)
  • If disturbed, the hare stands up on its hind legs, forefeet tucked in, hopping on the hind feet while detecting the source of the danger, then bounding off with one forefoot still lifted up, producing three-legged tracks. (J469.457.w1)
  • A frightened group may hop in all directions on the hind legs until the direction of the danger is located, then all bound away on four legs. (J469.457.w1)
  • The Arctic hare can run at speeds of up to 64 km per hour. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)
  • This species can swim easily across streams. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)

NAVIGATION: --

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Habitat and Range

General Habitat Type

Notes

Specific Lepus arcticus Information
  • This species largely inhabits tundra. (B285.w5c, B430.w2, B605.4.w4)
  • The Arctic hare is usually found north of the tree line. (B605.4.w4)
  • This species seems to prefer hillsides and plateaux strewn with rocks (which are used to hide from both aerial and terrestrial predators) to flat bogland. (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 arcticus Information

  • The Arctic hare makes trails throughout the winter. These are frequently located on slopes which are exposed to strong winds; in these areas the wind clears the majority of snow off the sparse vegetation. (B430.w2)
  • This species sleeps or dozes in areas sheltered from the wind, and often in areas which are warmed by the sun. Arctic hares are frequently found resting in groups of two or more. (B430.w2)
  • In times of extreme cold, Arctic hares sometimes burrow into the snow in order to protect themselves, but it is more likely to make use of a small depression within the snow. (B430.w2)
  • "Dens consist of a tunnel and a terminal chamber." (B430.w2)
  • Young of this species are born into a nest, which is often located in a well-sheltered area under/between rocks but is sometimes simply a depression in tundra mosses and grasses. Dry grass, moss and fur from the mother is used to line the nest. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)

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Distribution and Movement (Migration etc.)

Notes

Specific Lepus arcticus Information
  • This species is found in Arctic America and Greenland. (B51)
  • The Arctic hare is found in Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Islands, and its distribution extends southwards to the west-central shore of Hudson Bay. It is also found in Quebec and the western maritime provinces of Canada. (B285.w5c)
  • "Greenland and Canadian arctic islands southward in open tundra to WC shore of Hudson Bay, thence northwest to the west of Fort Anderson on coast of Arctic Ocean. Isolated populations in tundra of N Quebec and Labrador, and on Newfoundland (Canada)." (B607.w20)
  • Found from sea level to 900 meters. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)
  • Canadian distribution: the Arctic hare is found north of the tree line, "as north as the northern point of Ellesmere Island in the Northwest Territories, Canada, and on the rock-strewn plateaus and mountains of eastern Newfoundland. (B430.w2, J469.457.w1)
  • Greenland: this species is common across the majority of the ice-free coastal region. The Arctic hare can also be found on small islands off the coast of Greenland, which can be reached when ice is present, as well as being found frequently on ice as far as 3 - 5 km from land. (B430.w2, (J469.457.w1)
  • "The arctic hare is widely distributed in tundra regions of northern Canada and Greenland. Conditions are more favorable for it farther north; its populations are larger there, it is larger in size, and its fur is much finer than in more southern populations." (B430.w2)
  • This species is extremely well-adapted to living in cold and barren habitats. (B430.w2)
  • "Throughout most of the range, it spends the summer north of the tree limit, but in winter it may penetrate more than 160 kilometers into the timber belt. It may be rare for years in a locality, then suddenly become common." (B430.w2)
  • It is thought that the Arctic hare is excluded from boreal forests due to the presence of Lepus americanus - Snowshoe hare, and possibly by predators such as the Lynx. (B605.4.w4)
  • "It occurs on circumpolar open tundra from Greenland to the Chukot Peninsula, but with a gap in its range along the north of Alaska, reaching 83o N in Ellesmere Island and Greenland." (B605.4.w4)
  • In the winter, the hares are able to access the majority of the islands they inhabit by crossing the ice. (B605.4.w4)
  • Distribution of various subspecies:
    • Lepus arcticus andersoni - north-central Canada. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus arcticus arcticus - northern Baffin Island, Canada and the vicinity. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus arcticus bangsii - Labrador and Newfoundland, Canada. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus arcticus banksicola - Banks Island, Canada. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus arcticus groenlandicus - northern Greenland. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus arcticus hubbardi - Prince Patrick Island, Canada. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus arcticus labradorius - northeastern Canada. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus arcticus monstrabilis - northernmost Canada. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus arcticus porsildi - southern Greenland. (B430.w2)
    • Lepus arcticus tschuktschorum. (B605.4.w4)

Migration

  • Possibly migratory; opinions differ. (J469.457.w1)

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Conservation

Species variation

Notes

Specific Lepus arcticus Information
  • This species has been considered a subspecies of Lepus timidus - Mountain hare. (B285.w5c, B607.w20)
  • "Traditionally three species were recognized: L.othus [Lepus othus - Alaskan hare] in Alaska, L.arcticus in northern Canada and Greenland, and L.timidus in the Old World. Because they form a circumpolar "ring species" some authorities consider them all L.timidus." (B605.4.w4)
  • Others believe that two separate species exist: Lepus timidus which is found in the Old World, and Lepus arcticus which is larger than Lepus timidus, and is found in Greenland, Northern Canada, Alaska and the Chukot Peninsula, Soviet Union. (B605.4.w4)
  • "The hares of the Chukot Peninsula are the same size as L.othus in Alaska, and far larger than adjacent populations of L.timidus. Under this classification there are 10 subspecies of the arctic hare." (B605.4.w4)
Currently recognised subspecies include:
  • Lepus arcticus andersoni: including Lepus arcticus andersoni, Lepus arcticus banksicola, Lepus arcticus canus, Lepus arcticus glacialis .
  • Lepus arcticus bangsii: including Lepus arcticus labradorius. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus arcticus groenlandicus: including Lepus arcticus hyperboreus; Lepus arcticus persimilis; Lepus arcticus porsildi. (B607.w20)
  • Lepus arcticus monstrabilis including Lepus arcticus hubbardi. (B607.w20)

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

Previously recognised subspecies include:

  • Lepus arcticus arcticus. (B430.w2)
  • Lepus arcticus banksicola. (B430.w2)
  • Lepus arcticus tschuktschorum. (B605.4.w4)

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Conservation Status

Notes

WILD POPULATION - IMPORTANCE:

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • Common. (B430.w2)
  • "Over much of its range densities are so low that they appear to be at risk, yet there is no evidence that this situation is abnormal or that it has changed in historical times, even in relatively accessible areas like Newfoundland." (B605.4.w4)

GENERAL LEGISLATION: --

CITES LISTING: --

RED-DATA LIST STATUS:

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • IUCN - Lower Risk (least concern). (W2.Apr08.w6)

THREATS:

Specific Lepus arcticus Information 

  • It has been suggested that the use of small, predator-free islands could be useful in the conservation of this species should it ever be required, as such natural populations often have high densities. (B605.4.w4)
  • "Study of communication between individual hares at low density would be useful to understand population dynamics in this species, and the disruptive effect of aircraft and snowmobiles should be assessed as tourism increases." (B605.4.w4)

PEST STATUS / PEST POPULATIONS: --

CAPTIVE POPULATIONS: --

TRADE AND USE:

Specific Lepus arcticus Information

  • Arctic hares are sometime hunted. However, many populations of Arctic hares live in areas which are not easily accessible. (B605.4.w4)

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