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What is a Snowshoe Hare?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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The snowshoe hare is a type of hare which lives in North America. The animal is named for its famously large feet, which are specially adapted to help it navigate in the snow. Unlike animals with small feet, the snowshoe hare can walk on the snow without breaking through it, exactly like a person in snowshoes. Snowshoe hares can be found in many parts of North America, especially regions with high altitudes.

The snowshoe hare may also be referred to as the varying hare, because the animal changes coats seasonally. In the summer, the snowshoe hare has a white underbelly and a brown upper body, designed to help it blend in with the plants in the meadows it favors. In the winter, the snowshoe hare turns pure white with black-tipped ears, which helps it blend in with the snow.

Snowshoe hares are medium sized and heavily furred, with their feet especially being covered in a thick coat of fur which helps distribute their weight on the snow. They tend to live alone, although they may feed in small groups, and they do not hibernate, subsisting on bark, twigs, and whatever foliage they can find during the winter months.

Like other hares, snowshoe hares have bodies which are built for jumping, with extremely powerful rear legs. They also have long ears when compared to rabbits, and their young are born fully furred with their eyes open. This means that the young hares can quickly fend for themselves, unlike baby rabbits, who are helpless. Hares also give birth above ground in flattened nests, rather than in burrows.

This North American hare is quite famous because of its distinctive adaptations which help it to cope with its environment. They are often found in the wild, making them a popular game animal for some hunters, and some wildlife parks and zoos also maintain a small snowshoe hare population, for people who are interested in seeing these animals in closeup.

Like some other North American animals which have adapted to cope with specific seasonal changes, the snowshoe hare is under threat as a result of global warming, and it also experiences habitat pressure. Some snowshoe hare populations are trapped on islands of wild space in the United States, which means that they cannot migrate north to find a habitat which is more suitable for them and to increase their genetic diversity by meeting other snowshoe hares.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Snowshoe Hare and where can it be found?

The Snowshoe Hare, known scientifically as Lepus americanus, is a North American species well-adapted to snowy environments. It inhabits boreal forests and upper montane ecosystems across Canada, Alaska, and northern parts of the United States. Its large hind feet act like snowshoes, providing buoyancy on snow and aiding in swift escape from predators.

How does the Snowshoe Hare adapt to seasonal changes?

Snowshoe Hares exhibit remarkable seasonal camouflage, with their fur changing color from brown or gray in the summer to white in the winter, blending with the snow. This adaptation, according to research, is triggered by changes in daylight length, helping them evade predators by matching their environment.

What does the Snowshoe Hare eat?

As herbivores, Snowshoe Hares primarily feed on a variety of vegetation, including grasses, ferns, leaves, and twigs. During winter, when plant matter is scarce, they survive on buds, twigs, and bark from woody shrubs and young trees, demonstrating their ability to adapt their diet to seasonal availability.

What are the main predators of the Snowshoe Hare?

Snowshoe Hares are a crucial prey species for a diverse array of predators. Their main threats include lynx, foxes, coyotes, owls, and hawks. The hare's population cycles are closely linked to those of the lynx, with hare numbers influencing lynx populations due to their predator-prey relationship.

How do Snowshoe Hares reproduce and how often?

Snowshoe Hares typically breed from late March to August, with females capable of having multiple litters per year. They have a gestation period of around 36-40 days and can give birth to 1-8 leverets per litter. Leverets are born fully furred and with open eyes, ready to be mobile shortly after birth.

Are Snowshoe Hares at risk of extinction?

Currently, Snowshoe Hares are not at immediate risk of extinction and are classified as 'Least Concern' by the IUCN Red List. However, they face threats from habitat loss and climate change, which may affect their seasonal camouflage effectiveness and alter their historical range and population dynamics.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By cmsmith10 — On Aug 15, 2010

Just a little more FYI on the snowshoe hare. They have to evade predators on a regular basis. Some of their most fierce predators are wolves, bobcats, minks, and foxes.

They have perfected certain escape techniques. One of their evading techniques is to freeze in their tracks. Since they have such a great camouflage, it works well. They also can outrun some of their predators. They can reach a speed of 27 miles per hour. They can make that in ten leaps!

By GrumpyGuppy — On Aug 15, 2010

@boathugger: Their food habits vary depending on where they are. They feed on grasses, asters, wild strawberry, dandelions, daisies, clovers and horsetails.

It is mainly in the winter months that they eat twigs, barks, and evergreens. They have also been known to feed on dead remains.

By BoatHugger — On Aug 15, 2010

Is bark and twigs all that they eat? What else is in their diet?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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