Lepus othusAlaskan hare

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Geographic Range

Lepus othus is found in northern and western Alaska. Some descriptions also place them at the extreme eastern tip of Siberia.

Habitat

Lepus othus tend to live on rocky slopes or upland tundra. They dislike low places. They may also be found in brushy areas that are good for camouflage.

Physical Description

Alaskan hares are the largest hare species in North America, measuring in length from 0.5 to 0.7 m with a tail length of about 8 cm, and very large hind feet (almost 20 cm long) which aid in movement over snow. There is no sexual dimorphism in size. Alaskan hares have robust skulls, strongly recurved upper incisors, and stout claws for digging in the snow. Unlike most hares, they have fairly short ears to conserve heat in the arctic environment. Lepus othus has a gray-brown topcoat with a white undercoat in the summer, but sheds and grows an entirely white coat in the winter, except for the black fur at the tip of the ears which is present year-round.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    3.9 to 7.2 kg
    8.59 to 15.86 lb
  • Average mass
    4.8 kg
    10.57 lb

Reproduction

Lepus othus, in contrast to many other hares, has only one litter per year. This litter tends to be larger on average than other hare species. Litters consist of 4 to 8 (averaging 5) young called leverets. The mating season lasts from April to May and young are born in the summer months, from June to July. They have a somewhat darker pelage than adults. Like all hares, they are born with a full coat of fur and their eyes open. Leverets are fairly active soon after birth. This is useful because they do not live in burrows, but are born in open nest sites above ground.

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Range number of offspring
    4 to 8
  • Average number of offspring
    5

Behavior

Alaskan hares are mosly active at dusk and dawn, when they forage for food. They tend to be solitary except during the mating season, from April to May, when they congregate in groups of 20 or more.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Alaskan hares mainly eat woody vegetation, including willow leaves, shoots, bark, and roots. They also feed on grasses, berries, and flowers when they are available. Evenings are the most common time to feed.

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • roots and tubers
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • fruit
  • flowers

Predation

Alaskan hares are not aggressive animals, they defend themselves mostly through hiding, aided by protective coloration. Still, they have been reported to defend themselves from attacking owls with their strong front legs. Raptors, weasels, wolverines, foxes, and polar bears are all potential predators of Alaskan hares.

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Although Alaskan hares are seldom used as a food source for humans, the meat is said to be quite tasty and Arctic people will eat them when necessary. They are more commonly trapped for fur, used to make lining for shoes and robes. They are also a popular sport hunting species.

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

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

As herbivores, Alaskan hares could cause damage to gardens, but this does not seem to be much of a problem among Arctic people.

Conservation Status

Lepus othus is described in "Mammal Species of the World" as rare and decreasing in range and numbers. However, none of the major conservation organizations list them among endangered or threatened species.

Other Comments

Lepus othus is quite similar to L. arcticus and L. timidus. Molecular data suggest these three are conspecific, while morphological data separate them. All are found in different geographic regions.

Contributors

Lisa DeBruine (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

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

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

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.

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

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

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

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.

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

tundra

A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

"Arctic Hare" (On-line). Accessed November 22, 1999 at http://tqjr.advanced.org/3500/arctic_hare.html.

"Hares" (On-line). Accessed November 22, 1999 at http://www.state.ak.us/local/akpages/FISH.GAME/notebook/smgame/hares.htm.

1993. "Mammal Species of the World" (On-line). Accessed November 19, 1999 at http://www.nmnh.si.edu/cgi-bin/wdb/msw/names/query/26059.

Bee, J. 1956. Mammals of Northern Alaska on the Arctic Slope. University of Kansas: Laurence, Museum of Natural History.

Best, T., H. Hill. 1994. Lepus othus. Mammalian Species, 0(458): 1-5.

Demboski, J. "Lepus othus (Alaskan Hare)" (On-line). Accessed November 22, 1999 at http://zorba.uafadm.alaska.edu/museum/mammal/AK_Mammals/Lagomorphs/othus.html.

Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, v. II, 6th ed.. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.