Lepus corsicanusCorsican hare

Last updated:

Geographic Range

Italian hare (also known as the Appenine or Corsican hares) are located throughout Southern Italy, from Umbria and Southern Tuscany to Cabria. Populations are evenly distributed on mainland Italy, but fragmented on islands. They are widespread in Sicily and Corsica, but absent from other islands that surround Sicily. They were introduced in Corsica in the 16th century. Hybridization with other Lepus species was previously thought not to occur, but DNA analysis recently showed that hybridization likely occurs with European hares and Granada hares in Corsica. (Angelici, et al., 2010; Fulgione, et al., 2009; Mengoni, 2011; Mengoni, et al., 2014; Mori, et al., 2014; Pietri, et al., 2011)

Habitat

Italian hares prefer habitats with alternating clearings, bushy areas, and deciduous woods. They may also inhabit dunes, cropland, Mediterranean vegetation, scrub forest, and urban areas. They are present at elevations from sea level to 1900 meters in Appenine regions and up to 2400 meters on Mt. Etna. Populations have declined as a result of habitat fragmentation, isolation, low population density, habitat deterioration, introduction of European hares, and over-hunting. (Angelici, et al., 2010; Mengoni, 2011)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 2400 m
    0.00 to 7874.02 ft

Physical Description

Italian hares have red-gray fur on neck, shoulders, and hips, gray-black fur on back, and white fur on dorsal surface. They have dark pelage on the nape of their neck. Their body is medium in size with a slender shape and small head that is elongated and laterally compressed. Head and body length is 55 to 61 cm, ears are about 11 cm in length with black tips. Eyes are large and brown. Hind limbs are more robust than front limbs with a hind leg length of about 13 cm with 4 toes; front limbs have 5 toes. Fur present on the feet provides grip and insulation from extreme temperatures. Hind limbs are developed for running and jumping (saltation). Skulls of hares are fenestrated and the rostrum is elongate. Dentition includes 4 incisors with no roots in upper jaw and no canines. Italian hares have 28 teeth with the dental formula: I 2/1 C 0/0 P 3/2 M 3/3. Second upper incisors are present as peg-like teeth posterior to the front incisors. There is no apparent sexual dimorphism. Italian hares can be distinguished from similar-looking European hares by their redder fur, proportionally longer hind feet and ears, subocular tawny patch, and a definite transition between colored fur on back and white belly fur. Italian hares weigh approximately 2.22 kg, which is about 800 g lighter than European hares. Information on the metabolic rate of Italian hares is unavailable. (Angelici and Luiselli, 2007; Chapman and Flux, 2008; Mengoni, 2011; Palacios, 1996; Riga, et al., 2001; Rugge, et al., 2009)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Average mass
    2.22 kg
    4.89 lb
  • Range length
    55 to 61 cm
    21.65 to 24.02 in

Reproduction

Information on the mating system of Italian hares is limited. Breeding occurs year-round except for a short inter-estrus period. Males fight for females by striking one another with their front legs and occasionally biting. Short courtship rituals occur prior to mating; with mating usually occurring at dusk or night. (Mengoni, 2011)

Italian hares breed all year except for a 67 day inter-estrous period between October and December. Breeding varies geographically, with longer breeding intervals at higher latitudes. Most females reproduce 3 to 4 times yearly but may reproduce up to 5 times a year at lower latitudes. The gestation period is 41 to 42 days. Females exhibit post-partum estrous and may breed immediately after giving birth. No information is available for weaning, age of independence, or age of sexual maturity in Italian hares. In closely related European hares, leverets are weaned at about 21 days and females are sexually mature at 6 to 7 months. (Mengoni, 2011; Mengoni, 2011; Chapman and Flux, 2008; Mengoni, 2011)

  • Breeding interval
    Italian hares breed every 3 to 4 months.
  • Breeding season
    Italian hares breed between January and September.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 5
  • Average number of offspring
    3-4
  • Range gestation period
    41 to 42 days
  • Average gestation period
    41 days

Females prepare special areas called "havens," where they give birth to 1 to 5 offspring, called leverets. In hares, leverets are born at a precocial stage of development. Birth weight is unknown in Italian hares, but is 118 to 121 g in European hares. Births have been found to occur in a 1 male to 1.75 female sex ratio. Females remain in their native range while males disperse at maturity. Females nurse and protect their offspring until they reach independence. (Mallia, et al., 2009; Mengoni, 2011)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

No information is available on the longevity of Italian hares in the wild or captivity. The average lifespan of closely related European hares in the wild is 2.75 years. (Marboutin and Peroux, 1995)

Behavior

Italian hares are solitary and sedentary. They are nocturnal, foraging during the night, and remain in dens during the day. Italian hares are adapted for locomotion through running and jumping. Information on speed is unavailable for this species but other hare species can maintain 50 km/h for long periods of time and some are able to reach 80 km/h. (Chapman and Flux, 2008; Mengoni, 2011)

Home Range

Information on the home range of Italian hares is not available in the literature. (Mengoni, 2011)

Communication and Perception

There is no information available for communication in Italian hares. However, like other hares, they have exceptionally keen hearing and good vision in low light.

Food Habits

Italian hares are entirely herbivorous, eating mostly grasses. In spring and summer they eat mostly grasses and mint species. Their year round diet also includes sedges, rushes, peas, and asters. They may also eat birthworts, borages, carnations, crucifers, beeches, irises, lilies, olives, plantains, buttercups, roses, and carrots. As in all lagomorph species, Italian hares practice coprophagy, producing two distinct sets of fecal pellets. (Freschi, et al., 2014a; Freschi, et al., 2014b; Hirakawa, 2001; Mengoni, 2011)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • Other Foods
  • dung

Predation

Little is published about predators of this species. Red foxes, gray wolves, Eurasian badgers, least weasels, European pine martens, polecats, predatory birds, and feral cats in Italy are known predators of European hares. Italian hares are also hunted, despite being protected because they are similar in appearance to European hares, which are a game species. Italian hares, like other hares, are cryptically colored and capable of huge bursts of speed, which helps to protect them from some predation. (Bassi, et al., 2012; Chapman and Flux, 2008; Mengoni, 2011)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Italian hares are prey species for carnivorous mammals and predatory birds. They are hosts for a variety of parasitic nematodes including Trichostrongylus retortaeformis, Graphidium strigosum, Teladorsagia circumcincta, and Trichuris species and cestodes such as Cittotaenia pectinata and Paranoplocephala species. Several species of ticks infest Italian hares, including Dermacentor marginatus, Rhicephalus turanicus, Hyalomma marginatum, and Ixodes ricinus. Italian hares can contract and spread European brown hare syndrome virus. Italian hares can also contract and spread rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus (type 2) which was recently identified in Italian hares and both wild and domesticated rabbits (Oryctolagus cuninculus). Accumulation of fecal pellets in the home range of leporids increases nitrogen availability and results in greater growth in surrounding vegetation. These feces are reported to be an especially important source of nutrients in Mediterranean soils. (Bassi, et al., 2012; Chapman and Flux, 2008; Dantes-Torres, et al., 2011; Galviez, et al., 2008; Usai, et al., 2012)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • parasitic nematodes (Trichostrongylus retortaeformis)
  • parasitic nematodes (Graphidium strigosum)
  • parasitic nematodes (Teladorsagia circumcincta)
  • parasitic nematodes (Trichuris species)
  • cestodes (Cittotaenia pectinata)
  • cestodes (Paranoplocephala species)
  • ticks (Dermacentor marginatus)
  • ticks (Rhicephalus turanicus)
  • ticks (Hyalomma marginatum)
  • ticks (Ixodes ricinus)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Italian hares are protected in Italy, but are hunted because of lack of regulation and their similar appearance to European hares. (Chapman and Flux, 2008; Mengoni, 2011)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Italian hares sometimes forage on agricultural land and damage crops. Italian hare can spread European Brown Hare Syndrome virus to wild and domesticated European hares, which are hunted and raised for human consumption. Italian hares can also contract rabbit haemorrhagic disease type 2 virus, which can be spread to domesticated rabbits (Oryctolagus cuninculus). (Camarda, et al., 2014; Chapman and Flux, 2008; Sullivan, et al., 1985)

Conservation Status

Italian hares are considered vulnerable by the IUCN because of its fragmented distribution and variable conservation statuses throughout its range.

Other Comments

Italian hares were previously thought to be a subspecies of European hares (Lepus europaeus). Lepus corsicanus was originally reported as a species in 1898 by W.E. de Winton based on museum specimens and later changed to subspecies of Lepus europaeus. It was thought to be extinct in the middle of the twentieth century. The species has been rediscovered recently in Italy and Corsica and has validated as a unique species based on morphological and genetic evidence. Some recent genetic studies suggest that Italian hares and broom hares (Lepus castroviejoi) may be conspecific, others suggest they are sister species. (Acevedo, et al., 2014; Alves, et al., 2008; Melo-Ferreira, et al., 2012; Mengoni, 2011; Palacios, 1996; Pierpaoli, et al., 1999)

Contributors

Thomas Cooper (author), University of Manitoba, Jane Waterman (editor), University of Manitoba.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

coastal

the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

coprophage

an animal that mainly eats the dung of other animals

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

polygynandrous

the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

saltatorial

specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

visual

uses sight to communicate

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

Acevedo, P., J. Melo-Ferreira, R. Real, P. Alves. 2014. Evidence for niche similarities in the allopatric sister species Lepus castroviejoi and Lepus corsicanus. Journal of Biogeography, 41: 977-986.

Alves, P., J. Melo-Ferreira, M. branco, F. Suchentrunk, N. Ferrand, D. Harris. 2008. Evidence for genetic similarity of two allopatric European hares (Lepus corsicanus and L. castroviejoi) inferred from nuclear DNA sequences. Molecular Phyllogenetics and Evolution, 46: 1191-1197.

Angelici, F., L. Luiselli. 2007. Body Size and Altitude Partitioning of the Hares Lepus Europaeus and L. Corsicanus Living in Symaptry and Allopatry in Italy. Wildlife Biology, 13/3: 251-257.

Angelici, F., F. Petrozzi, A. Galli. 2010. The Appenine Hare Lepus Corsicanut In Latium, Central Italy: A Habitat Suitability Model and Comparison with its Current Range. Hystrix the Italian Journal of Mammology, 21/2: 177-182.

Bassi, E., E. Donaggio, A. Marcon, M. Scandura, M. Apollonio. 2012. Tropic niche overlap and wild ungulate consumption by red fix and wolf in a mountain area in Italy. Mammalian Biology, 77: 369-376.

Camarda, A., N. Pugliese, P. Cavadini, E. Circella, L. Capucci, A. Caroli, M. Legretto, E. Mallia, A. Lavazza. 2014. Detection of the new emerging rabbit haemorrhagic disease type 2 virus (RHDV2) in Sicily from rabbit (Oryctolagus cuninculus) and Italian hare (Lepus corsicanus). Research in Veterinary Science, 0/0: 4.

Chapman, J., J. Flux. 2008. Introduction to the Lagomorpha. Pp. 1-9 in P Alves, N Ferrand, K Hacklander, eds. Lagomorph Biology: Evolution, ecology, and conservation. Netherlands: Springer.

Dantes-Torres, F., G. Testini, P. DiGeronimo, V. Lorusso, E. Mallia, D. Otranto. 2011. Ticks infesting the endangered Italian hare (Lepus corsicanus) and their habitat in an ecological park in southern Italy. Experimental and Applied Acarology, 53: 95-102.

Freschi, P., S. Fascetti, M. Mustro, E. Mallia, A. Blasi, C. Cosentino, R. Paolino. 2014. Diet of the Appenine hare in a southern Italy regional Park. European Journal of Wildlife Reserves, 60: 423-430.

Freschi, P., S. Fascetti, M. Musto, E. Mallia, C. Cosentino, R. Paolino. 2014. Diet of the Italian Hare (Lepus corsicanus) in a semi-natural landscape of southern Italy. Mammalia, 0/0: 9.

Fulgione, D., V. Maselli, G. Pavarese, D. Rippa, R. Rastogi. 2009. Landscape fragmentation and habitat suitability in endangered Italian hare (Lepus corsicanus) and European hare (Lepus europaeus) populations. European Journal of Wildlife Reserves, 55: 385-396.

Galviez, L., A. Lopez-Pintor, J. de Miguel, G. Alonso, M. Rueda, S. Rebollo, A. Gomez-Sal. 2008. Ecosystem engineering effects of European rabbits in a mediterranean habitat. Pp. 125-139 in P Alves, N Ferrand, K Hacklander, eds. Lagomorph Biology: Evolution, ecology, and conservation. Netherlands: Springer.

Hirakawa, H. 2001. Coprophagy in leporids and other mammalian herbivores. Mammalian Review, 31/1: 61-80.

Mallia, E., C. Rugge, C. Cosentino, E. Gambacorta, V. Trocchi, P. Freschi. 2009. Postnatal growth of Brown hare (Lepus europaeus) in a Southern Italy rearing centre. Italian Journal of Animal Science, 8/2: 790-792.

Marboutin, E., R. Peroux. 1995. Survival pattern of European hare in a decreasing population. Journal of Applied Ecology, 32/4: 809-816.

Melo-Ferreira, J., P. Boursot, M. Carneiro, P. Esteves, L. Farelo, P. Alves. 2012. Recurrent introgession of mitochondrial DNA among hares (Lepus spp.) revealed by species-tree inference and coalescent simulations. Systematic Biology, 61/3: 367-381.

Mengoni, C., N. Mucci, E. Randi. 2014. Genetic diversity and no evidences of recent hybridization in the endemic Italian hare (Lepus corsicanus). Conservation Genetics, 0/0: 13.

Mengoni, C. 2011. Phylogeny and genetic diversity of Italian species of hares (genus Lepus). Istito superiore per la protezione e ricerca ambientale, 0: 91.

Mori, E., M. Menchetti, G. Dondini, D. Biosa, S. Vergari. 2014. Theriofauna of site of community importance Poggi di Prata (Grosseto, Central Italy): Terrestrial mammals and preliminary data on Chiroptera. CheckList, 10/4: 718-723.

Palacios, F. 1996. Systematics of the indigenous hares of Italy traditionally identified as Lepus europaeus Pallas, 1778 (Mammalia: Leporidae). Bonner Zoologische Beitrage, 46: 59-91.

Pierpaoli, M., F. Riga, V. Trocchi, E. Randi. 1999. Species distinction and evolutionary relationships of Italian hare (Lepus corsicanus) as described by mitochondrial DNA sequencing. Molecular Ecology, 8: 1805-1817.

Pierpaoli, M., F. Riga, V. Trocchi, E. Randi. 2003. Hare populations in Europe: intra and interspecific analysis of mtDNA variation. Comptes Rendus Biologies, 326: S80-S84.

Pietri, C., P. Alves, J. Melo-Ferreira. 2011. Hares in Corsica: high prevalence of Lepus corsicanus and hybridization with introduced L. europaeus and L. granatensis. European Journal of Wildlife Reserves, 57: 313-321.

Riga, F., V. Trocchi, E. Randi, S. Toso. 2001. Morphometric differentiation between the Italian hare (Lepus corsicanus De Winton, 1898) and the European brown hare (Lepus europaeus Pallas, 1778). Journal of Zoology, 253: 241-252.

Rugge, C., E. Mallia, A. Perna, V. Trocchi, P. Freschi. 2009. First contribute to the characterization of coat in Lepus corsicanus and Lepus europaeus by colorimetric determinations. Italian Journal of Animal Science, 8/2: 802-804.

Sullivan, T., L. Nordstrom, D. Sulivan. 1985. Use of predator odors as repellents to reduce feeding damage by herbivores: I. Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus). Journal of Chemical Ecology, 11/7: 903-919.

Usai, F., R. Rinnovati, V. Trocchi, L. Stancapiano. 2012. Lepus corsicanus gastro-intestinal helminths: first report. Helminthologia, 49/2: 71-77.