Lepus saxatilisscrub hare

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Geographic Range

Lepus saxatilis is native to the continent of Africa, and there have been no reported attempts to introduce it into other areas. It is primarily found throughout Southern Africa and Namibia, with the exception of the Namib Desert. L. saxatilis has also been found in other African locations, including Nigeria extending westward to Southwest Mauritana and Senegal, Southeast Ethiopia, Uganda, most of Kenya, Angola, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. All of these African countries fall within the Ethiopian Biogeographic Range. (Nowak, 1999; Smithers, 1983; Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

Habitat

L. saxatilis is found at elevations of 1220 to 1830 m above sea level. The species is primarily found in the savanna woodland and scrub areas of Africa. It is usually not found in forests, deserts, or grasslands. However it occasionally can be found foraging at night in the open grasslands. L.saxatilis is also successful in agriculturally developed areas where it positions itself near growing crops, or in areas of bush regeneration. (Smithers, 1983; Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

L. saxatilis is found throughout the regions of South Africa and Namibia. Here there is both a tropical climate (Namibia) and a sub-tropical climate stretching between 22 to 34 degrees southern latitude (South Africa). ("South Africa", 2000; Matthews, 1971)

  • Range elevation
    1220 to 1830 m
    4002.62 to 6003.94 ft

Physical Description

L. saxatilis can be identified by its complex fur coloration pattern. Its dorsal fur is grizzled gray and often has tiny black spots, while its ventral fur is white. It has a multicolored tail that is black on top and white underneath. It has lighter fur on the sides of its face and around its eyes. Many have a white patch of fur on their forehead. L. saxatilis also has a patch of reddish-brown fur behind its ears. All of its body hair has a soft texture. (Mills and Hes, 1997; Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

L. saxatilis exhibits a large range in both its body size and mass. Length ranges from 45 cm to 65 cm, and mass ranges from 1500 g to 4500 g. This range in body size follows a geographic pattern, such that there is a decrease in body size when moving from the North to the South of its range. This same geographic pattern can be observed with ear length. In any particular area, females typically have a larger body length and mass than do males. (Mills and Hes, 1997; Smithers, 1983; Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

L. saxatilis has long ears. Furthermore, its hind legs are much longer than its forelegs, and its hind feet have a lighter fur color than its forefeet. All of its feet are heavily furred. (Mills and Hes, 1997; Nowak, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    1.5 to 4.5 kg
    3.30 to 9.91 lb
  • Range length
    45 to 65 cm
    17.72 to 25.59 in

Reproduction

This species is apparently polygynous. L. saxatilis is normally solitary. However, when a female is experiencing oestrus, multiple males will often remain near her. Little research has been done regarding the interactions of these males. However, males of other species in the genus Lepus engage in competition that often involves boxing with their forefeet and/or kicking with their hindfeet. Frequently competition between males is so intense that the female over which they are competing is injured. (Mills and Hes, 1997; Nowak, 1999)

L. saxatilis breeds throughout the year, despite frequent droughts and dry conditions. Its peak-breeding season is during the African summer (from September to February) when the climate is warmer and wetter. Fertilization is internal, and the gestation period lasts an average of 42 days. A female may give birth to 1 to 3 young, with the mean number being 1.6. Females more frequently give birth to triplets following rainy seasons rather than dry seasons. (Smithers, 1983; Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

The leverets are born with all of their hair and their eyes open. The average mass at birth is 115 grams. Shortly after birth, a young L. saxatilis will be capable of moving around and providing for itself. There is little parental care, and it is usually limited to a single suckling period during the night. This occurs each night until the leverets are weaned, however the number of days it takes for the leverets to be weaned is not known. No nest is made for the leverets. Although many leverets will not survive their first year, the ones that do survive will be sexually mature after this year. (Mills and Hes, 1997; Nowak, 1999; Penzhorn, et al., 1993; Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

  • Breeding interval
    These animals breed aseasonally, so in theory should be capable of producing young approximately every three months.
  • Breeding season
    Mating occurs aseasonally.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 3
  • Average number of offspring
    1.6
  • Range gestation period
    35 to 42 days
  • Average gestation period
    42 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

L. saxatilis exhibits very low levels of parental investment. L. saxatilis gives birth to young that are fully haired, have open eyes, and are developed enough to take care of themselves shortly after birth. The exact time of independence is not known. Parents of this species do not provide protection, resources or learning experiences for their young. They do not even provide the leverets with nests! All parental care is limited to a short period of suckling during the night. This occurs each night until the leverets are weaned, however the number of days until weaning is not known. As far as is known, only females provide parental care in this species. (Mills and Hes, 1997; Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • precocial
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

L. saxatilis frequently does not survive its first year. Although details of its lifespan are limited, close relatives within the genus Lepus have been know to live up to five years in the wild. However, in captivity, members of the genus have a longer lifespan, which ranges between six years and seven years. ("Rabbit and Hare Species", 2001; Smith, 1985; "Rabbit and Hare Species", 2001; Smith, 1985)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    5 (high) years
  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    7 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    0 to 5 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    6 to 7 years

Behavior

L. saxatilis is solitary except during times of mating. The species is nocturnal and emerges at sundown to forage. Occasionally, if the sky is overcast, it will forage during the morning or afternoon. During the day, L. saxatilis rests in forms, which are indentations in the ground that it makes with the pressure of its body. An individual will usually return to the same form for multiple days unless disturbed, at which point it is forced to create another. Within these forms, L. saxatilis is disguised from its predators due to its cryptic coloration, which blends in with the vegetation and scrub land. By minimizing movement, these animals are much less likely to be detected by predators. L. saxatilis often remains perfectly still in its form. It also keeps its long ears folded back over its shoulders to avoid identification by predators. (Mills and Hes, 1997; Smithers, 1983; Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

When confronted by a predator, L. saxatilis remains motionless in its form. It hesitates until the last possible moment and then evacuates its form at an incredible rate. It attempts to evade its predator by following an irregular course at a fast speed. L. saxatilis is known to emit a loud vocal squealing sound when captured and/or distressed for any other reason. (Mills and Hes, 1997; Smithers, 1983; Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

At one point during the day, L. saxatilis excretes a Vitamin B-rich pellet and then ingests it. The function of this behavior is not known. (Mills and Hes, 1997; Smithers, 1983; Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

Home Range

Little is known about the home range size of L. saxatilis. Closely related members of the genus Lepus are known to defend an area of one to two meters surrounding their form. There are, however, communal feeding areas where these forms approach one another. ("Rabbit and Hare Species", 2001)

Communication and Perception

L. saxatilis perceives the world through multiple forms of communication. However, since L. saxatilis is solitary when not mating, the communication is not used to enforce social hierarchy. Individuals are vocal and will emit loud squeals in the instance that they are either wounded or distressed. They also produce a characteristic loud chirping sound if they are disturbed when they are in an open habitat during the night. Less commonly it has been noted that members of the genus Lepus will use their voice when neither distressed nor wounded. ("Rabbit and Hare Species", 2001; Mills and Hes, 1997; Nowak, 1999; Smithers, 1983)

Other forms of communication are not known for L. saxatilis. Close relatives in the genus Lepus communicate through the thumping of their feet. This method of communication is known as drumming. Also all members of the family Leporidae, of which L. saxatilis is a member, have scent glands that produce characteristic scents used for territory marking and sexual identification. Just how relevant these latter two forms of communication are in L. saxatilis is not known. ("Rabbit and Hare Species", 2001; Mills and Hes, 1997; Nowak, 1999; Smithers, 1983)

Tactile communication likely occurs in this species between rivals in competition for mates. Males and females share some tactile communication during mating, as do mothers with their young.

Food Habits

L. saxatilis is primarily a folivore. It has a preference for the green grass that grows during the wetter and cooler climates. However it will also eat the leaves, stems and rhizomes of grass that grows during dryer climate periods. Members of the genus Lepus will occasionally indulge in shrub bark if there is no other food source available. It is not known how common this is in L. saxatilis. ("Rabbit and Hare Species", 2001; Mills and Hes, 1997; Smithers, 1983; Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

L. saxatilis is nocturnal, and therefore does the majority of its foraging either during or after sunset. It has occasionally been seen foraging during the early mornings or afternoons when the sky is overcast, but this is less frequent. ("Rabbit and Hare Species", 2001; Mills and Hes, 1997; Smithers, 1983; Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems

Predation

L. saxatilis spends its day in a self-built form and has multiple methods for avoiding detection by predators. It sits snugly in its form with its ears folded backwards and its head pulled into its body to prevent detection. It is further camouflaged by its cryptic coloration. While in its form, L. saxatilis remains almost perfectly motionless because any movement may attract the attention of a nearby predator. (Mills and Hes, 1997; Smithers, 1983)

When confronted by a predator, L. saxatilis will continue to remain motionless in its form until the last possible moment. At this point it will rapidly take off. It attempts to lose its predator by moving rapidly in a zigzag pattern. If the predator catches it, the hare will emit a loud squeal that is a sign of distress. Once it has been caught, its only defense mechanisms are to kick with its hind legs or to bite its predator. Side-striped jackals Canis adustus are a common predator to L. saxatilis in which the above interaction is commonly seen. (Atkinson, et al., 2002; Mills and Hes, 1997; Smithers, 1983)

L. saxatilis also suffers from flea and lice infestation. It is not known if it employs any defense mechanisms against these pests. Primarily the flea infestations are by Ctenocephalides felis damarensis which peaks from August to October and has its lowest presence from February to April. (Louw, et al., 1993)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

L. saxatilis has multiple roles within the ecosystem. It is responsible for a minimal amount of soil aeration, as it helps to break up the ground and redistribute the soil when creating its forms. It influences vegetational growth, and serves as prey for larger animals. (Stuart and Stuart, 1995)

L. saxatilis also serves as a host for multiple flea and lice species. The most common of these species is Ctenocephalides felis damarensis whose population peaks from August to October and is at its lowest from February to April. (Louw, et al., 1993)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

L. saxatilis is not of much economic importance for the human population. However, many human populations use members of the genus Lepus as a food source, and it is likely that local people probably eat these hares occasionally. Its fur is of minimal value, but it is sometimes used within the lining of various garments including gloves. (Nowak, 1999)

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

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Although L. saxatilis provides no immediate threat to humans, when threatened it will kick with its hind legs and bite. However this bite is not venomous. Although hot overtly dangerous to humans, L. saxatilis is an agricultural pest. It often inhabits agriculturally developed areas and forages on the surrounding grass and growing vegetation, sometimes negatively affecting crops. (Nowak, 1999)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans
    • bites or stings
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

L. saxatilis is not listed as endangered and its population remains widespread throughout Africa.

Other Comments

L. saxatilis excretes a hard, disk-shaped pellet following foraging. This can be used to identify if it has been foraging in a particular area. (Mills and Hes, 1997)

Contributors

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Aimee Kushnereit (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Ethiopian

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

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.

chaparral

Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.

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

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

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.

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

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

saltatorial

specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

sexual

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

soil aeration

digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in

solitary

lives alone

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

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

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

2001. Rabbit and Hare Species. Pp. 702-703 in The New Encyclopedia of Mammals, Vol. 1, 1 Edition. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.

2000. "South Africa" (On-line). Geographia. Accessed February 07, 2004 at http://www.geographia.com/south-africa.

Atkinson, R., D. Macdonald, R. Kamizola. 2002. Dietary Opportunism in side-striped jackals Canis adustus Sundevall. Journal of Zoology, 257: 129-139.

Louw, J., I. Horak, L. Braack. 1993. Fleas and Lice on Scrub Hares (Lepus saxatilis) in South Africa. Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research, 60(2): 95-101.

Matthews, H. 1971. Life of Mammals. New York City, New York: Universe Books.

Mills, G., L. Hes. 1997. The Complete Book of Southern African Mammals. Cape Town: Struik Publishers.

Nowak, R. 1999. Hares, or Jack Rabbits. Pp. 1733-1738 in R Nowak, ed. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition, Vol. 1. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Penzhorn, B., I. Horak, A. Spickett, L. Braack. 1993. Observations On Reproduction And Morphometrics Of Scrub Hares In The Kruger-National Park. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 23(3): 74-77.

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

Rue, L. 1965. Cottontail. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company.

Smith, S. 1985. The Atlas of Africa's Principal Mammals. Republic of South Africa: Natural History Books.

Smithers, R. 1983. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Pretoria: University of Pretoria.

Stuart, C., T. Stuart. 1995. Stuart's Field Guide: Mammals of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik Publishers Ltd.