Lepus microtisAfrican savanna hare

Last updated:

Geographic Range

African savanna hares (Lepus microtis) are found within the southwestern Palearctic and Ethiopian biogeographic regions. Their range spans from the Atlantic coast of northwestern Africa (western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone), east across the Sahel to Sudan and western Ethiopia and south across east Africa through the Congo and west Kenya, to Botswana, Namibia, and northeast South Africa. There is also an isolated population in south Algeria, near Beni Abbes. (Chapman and Flux, 1990; Moores, et al., 2012; Smith and Johnston, 2008; Wilson and Reeder, 1993)

Habitat

This species is found in montane areas and inhabits mostly scrubby grasslands within woodlands. The preferred grasses and shrubs in which this species lives includes kangaroo grasses (Themeda triandra), cogon grasses (Imperata cylindrica), and camphor bushes (Tarconanthus camphoratus). In a study measuring the proportion of L. microtis found in various vegetation types, 83% were in scrub or woodland, and 15% were in open grassland. They also can be found in areas of secondary growth, cultivation mosaics, and stony, wooded steppes; areas that are common in upland and montane grasslands. This habitat is found in the savannas of northwest and sub-Saharan Africa. (Chapman and Flux, 1990; Duff and Lawson, 2004; Kingdon, 1997; Smith and Johnston, 2008)

Physical Description

African savanna hares tend to have a medium body size. Members of this species have a short tail and are well furred, with thick coarse pelage. They tend to be more richly colored than other hares, with a greyish-brown back, a white dorsal side and a russet hue on their breasts, sides, legs, and at the nape of their neck. Their ears are black at the tips and their tail is black on top and white below. In montane areas, they tend to be more russet and darker in coloring. However, in areas where they coexist with cape hares, they are almost identical in color. (Chapman and Flux, 1990; Moores, et al., 2012)

A feature specific to L. microtis is a deep groove on their incisors. There are slight geographical differences in teeth, due to phylogenetic processes. These processes include varying gene flow, population bottlenecks, founder effect and genetic drift. They are not a result of adapting to current environmental conditions because they are considered selectively neutral. In addition, their muzzle projects more than that of cape hares. (Kingdon, 1997; Moores, et al., 2012; Suchentrunk and Flux, 1996)

Skull features unique to hares include a short palate, a broad and triangular postorbital process, and fused sutures of the interparietal bone. This species specifically has wide anterior and middle parts of the basioccipitals. They also show sex-specific variation, the basioccipitals of males are narrower and similar in shape to the basioccipitals of cape hares. (Nowak, 1999; Suchentrunk, et al., 2007)

  • Range mass
    1.5 to 3 kg
    3.30 to 6.61 lb
  • Average mass
    2 kg
    4.41 lb
  • Range length
    41 to 58 cm
    16.14 to 22.83 in

Reproduction

The mating system of this species and its close relatives has not been reported in scientific literature.

Female Lepus microtis are pregnant throughout the year, showing a continuous breeding system. Females can reabsorb embryos if there is a problem with the pregnancy, this occurs most frequently during autumn, at a rate of 25%. Females become pregnant multiple times throughout the year, giving birth to several litters. Their gestation period ranges from 25 to 50 days. The mean number of young in a litter is 1.6, but annual production is about eight young per female. A female can give birth to as many as four litters in a year. During breeding, multiple males will pursue one female; males often chase one another and fight. (Chapman and Flux, 1990; Kingdon, 1984; Nowak, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding occurs continuously throughout the year, with pregnancy least successful in autumn.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs continuously throughout the year.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 15
  • Average number of offspring
    8
  • Range gestation period
    25 to 50 days
  • Average weaning age
    1 months
  • Average time to independence
    1 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    8 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    8 months

Young African savanna hares are born in the open, not in a nest. They can open their eyes and run within a few minutes. The mother usually separates the young and returns to each separately, allowing them to suckle. When the young are approached, they often try to box, bite, growl, leap, or grind their teeth. By the age of one month, they are fully weaned and independent. By eight months, they are sexually mature. (Kingdon, 1984; Nowak, 1999)

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

Lifespan/Longevity

Specific information on longevity is not available for Lepus microtis.

Behavior

African savanna hares are normally solitary or seen feeding in groups of two or three in favorable areas. They are also strictly nocturnal, with large quantities seen at night, but very rarely seen during daylight hours. They rely heavily on camouflage for hiding. African savanna hares are very good runners. They are often seen running in a zig-zag pattern because their eyes cannot see directly ahead. They can run up to speeds of 70 km per hour. They make very sudden leaps to the side while running. This is a defense mechanism, to break their scent trail. If chased, they will seek refuge in an aardvark hole or warthog burrow. Fights and chasing are common between males during breeding times. Males and females also fight as a way to stimulate sexual behavior. (Chapman and Flux, 1990; Kingdon, 1984; Nowak, 1999)

Home Range

The specific home range of Lepus microtis has not been reported; however, their range may be as small as 5 to 10 ha. (Chapman and Flux, 1990)

Communication and Perception

African savanna hares have very good sight, hearing, and sense of smell. They most often rely on sight to escape predators. In addition, they use their ears in signaling, with different positions for different moods. They have a sensory pad at the entrance of each nostril that is concealed by hairy folds of skin and aids in olfaction. They drum with their forelegs as a warning to other hares. Another non-vocal warning to others is teeth grinding. Even though both of these sounds are faint to humans, their keen hearing can detect this from a great distance. Females often make bleating calls to their young. When they are caught or wounded, they scream very loudly. (Kingdon, 1984; Nowak, 1999)

Food Habits

African savanna hares are herbivores, so their diet is mostly grasses and herbs; however, they usually consume more grasses than herbs. The main plant items in their diet are unidentified grasses, as well as grasses from genus Digitaria and genus Hyparrhenia. They are also known to gnaw on exposed roots, bark, shoots, the pulp of fallen fruit, berries, and occasionally pluck leaves or eat fungi. They circulate their food twice; this means they produce soft caecotroph pellets during the night that they consume again, to obtain the remaining nutrients. They then produce dry pellets during the day, which have very little nutrients remaining. (Chapman and Flux, 1990; Kingdon, 1984; Kingdon, 1997)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • Other Foods
  • fungus
  • dung

Predation

African savanna hares have many anti-predation traits. If in danger, they will run a short distance, very quickly and make a quick sharp turn, to throw off their scent trail. They try to avoid predation with their very keen senses of sight, smell, and hearing. They make drumming noises with their hind feet as an alarm signal, to alert others of danger. In addition, they rely heavily on camouflage to stay safe and are most active at night, to avoid being seen by predators. African savanna hares are in danger of predation from the second they are born. Their most common predators are humans, carnivorous birds, and snakes. (Kingdon, 1984; Nowak, 1999)

  • Known Predators

Ecosystem Roles

African savanna hares and cape hares (Lepus capensis) coexist with each other over much of their range. Lepus microtis is considered prey for carnivorous birds and snakes in the wild. In large numbers, L. microtis can be competitors for grazing land. (Chapman and Flux, 1990; Kingdon, 1984; Nowak, 1999)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In many regions, African savanna hares were at one time an important source of food for humans and were shipped between nations. In addition, their thin skin and dense soft fur is widely used in clothing. (Moores, et al., 2012; Nowak, 1999)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

In large numbers, African savanna hares can be pests and cause damage to crops. (Kingdon, 1984; Nowak, 1999)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Lepus microtis is a widespread and successful species over much of Africa and is not endangered. (Chapman and Flux, 1990; Kingdon, 1997; Smith and Johnston, 2008)

Contributors

Donald Riegler (author), The College of New Jersey, Matthew Wund (editor), The College of New Jersey, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

Glossary

Ethiopian

living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

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

aposematic

having coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.

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.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

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.

food

A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

granivore

an animal that mainly eats seeds

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.

native range

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

nocturnal

active during the night

saltatorial

specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

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

tactile

uses touch to communicate

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.

vibrations

movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others

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

Chapman, J., J. Flux. 1990. Rabbits, Hares and Pikas: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN- The World Conservation Union.

Duff, A., A. Lawson. 2004. Mammals of the world : a checklist. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Kingdon, J. 1984. East African mammals : An atlas of evolution in Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kingdon, J. 1997. The Kingdon field guide to African mammals. San Diego: Academic Press.

Moores, R., D. Brown, R. Martin, A. Lees. 2012. Status and identification of hares Lepus sp. in Western Sahara and Southern Morocco. Go-South Bull, 9: 126-130. Accessed October 09, 2012 at http://go-south.org/08_Go_SouthBulletin/gsb_9_126-130.pdf.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Smith, A., C. Johnston. 2008. "Lepus microtis" (On-line). IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed October 10, 2012 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/41879/0.

Suchentrunk, F., J. Flux. 1996. Minor dental traits in East African cape hares and savanna hares (Lepus capensis and Lepus microtis): A study of intra- and interspecific variability. Journal of Zoology, Volume 238/ Issue 3: 495–511.

Suchentrunk, F., J. Flux, M. Mag, H. Flux, B. Slimen. 2007. Multivariate discrimination between East African cape hares (Lepus capensis) and savanna hares (L. microtis) based on occipital bone shape. Mammalian Biology - Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde, Volume 72, Issue 6: 372–383.

Wilson, D., D. Reeder. 1993. Mammal species of the world : a taxonomic and geographic reference. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.