Lepus timidusmountain hare

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Geographic Range

Lepus timidus has a general range covering much of the Palearctic.

Habitat

Hares thrive in three main types of habitat: tundra, forest, and the moorlands of Scotland and Ireland. High densities of hares are found in transition zones of any of these habitats with open clearings. During the winter, L. timidus usually moves into more sheltered areas.

Physical Description

Mountain hares vary geographically depending upon habitat and altitude. The length of the body and head ranges between 430 and 610 mm. Tail length can be as little as 40 mm or as long as 70 mm. Hind feet vary from 145 to 180 mm and ear length from 76 to 106 mm.

The coloring changes with photoperiod and includes 3 molting periods. In the first molting period, from June to September, the coat changes from brown to brown. During the second, from October to January, it changes from brown to white/grey. In the third, from February to May, it changes from white back to brown.

Molts occur faster in an early, warm spring than a colder one as air temperature and snow cover on the ground also affect the rate.

Three types of fur are found on this hare: underfur, about 15 mm long; pile hair, about 25 mm long; and guard hairs, about 40 mm long. The color changes seen in molting are due to changes in the color of the pile hair.

Male mountain hares are smaller than females with seasonal variation in weight. Northern hares are also heavier than southern hares.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    1 to 4 kg
    2.20 to 8.81 lb
  • Average mass
    3.05 kg
    6.72 lb
  • Range length
    430 to 610 mm
    16.93 to 24.02 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    8.443 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

The sex ratio of the mountain hares is around 50 % males, and breeding does not occur in the first year of life. After maturity is reached, it is common for a female to have 1 to 2 litters of 1 to 4 young per year. Three litters may occur if there is an early spring. Litter size is correlated with the size of the mother, and larger mothers have larger litters. This, too, varies by region and habitat.

The breeding season is from January to September and is also controlled by photoperiod. Gestation varies from 47 to 54 days, with an average birth weight of 90 g. At birth, the young, or leverets, are fully furred, and their eyes are open. They begin suckling at once and continue for about 4 weeks. Those young born early in the season have a longer growth period, whereas those born later grow faster over a shorter period of time.

When breeding, the male follows the female by her scent. If he gets too close, she may strike at him or simply turn towards him with her ears laid backward as a warning signal.

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding may occur one to three times per year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from January to September.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 5
  • Average number of offspring
    1.88
  • Average number of offspring
    2
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    44 to 54 days
  • Average gestation period
    50 days
  • Range weaning age
    14 to 21 days
  • Average weaning age
    28 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    266 days
    AnAge

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

The social organization of mountain hares is a rare example of a female dominated system. Many males attempt to copulate with one female at the same time. This frequently causes fights between males. Still, there are observable relationships established between males of a group. A relationship between two females has not been recorded.

Lepus timidus is nocturnal, and spends its days resting in a "form", a depression in the snow or ground that greatly reduces wind speed. Sometimes a form is used repeatedly. Often, though, it is abandoned. Even though a hare rests during the day, it only sleeps for a few minutes at a time and carefully grooms itself when awake.

Mountain hares are sometimes seen in or near a burrow. Burrows are sometimes taken over from other animals, or they may be dug by the hare with its large paws. However, only leverets spend any time in the burrows. The mother hare usually sits at the opening.

An unusual behavior of mountain hares is called "hooking." Before a hare rests, it jumps to the side of where its tracks are, apparently so that the tracks cannot be followed. Sometimes this is done repeatedly to confuse predators.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The diet of L. timidus varies not only by habitat, but also by season. In the summer, the forest inhabitants consume mostly leaves and twigs. Those that live in the tundra eat alpine plants. Grasses, lichen, and bark have also been known to been eaten. However, in the winter, when most of the food is buried under snow, heather is the predominant food source.

Mountain hares are rarely seen to drink, so it is thought that they might eat snow. Other winter adaptations include feeding with their back to the wind and clearing out snow from food surfaces with their paws.

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

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In late winter, mountain hares often serve as game for hunters in some areas. This is not as common as it used to be because people in most regions do not consider it to be highly edible. However, it is still eaten in some parts of Ireland.

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Often times in the winter, when little food is available and they are facing starvation, mountain hares destroy crops (cereal and brassica) as well as fruit trees and other tree plantations.

Conservation Status

The population of mountain hare fluctuates greatly due to predators, parasites and starvation.

Predators include red fox, wild cats, dogs, and birds of prey. Some parasites are fleas, ticks, lices, microorganisms, and bacteria. Starvation can be caused by severe weather or through overeating the food supply.

Although the species overall is not at serious risk, the isolated population in the Alps may be extinct.

Contributors

Nancy Shefferly (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

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

Glossary

Palearctic

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

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

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.

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.

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

saltatorial

specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

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

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

taiga

Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.

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.

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.

viviparous

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

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

Angerbojorn, A., J. Flux. June 23, 1995. Lepus timidus. Mammalian Species, 495: 1-11.

Corbet, G., S. Harris. 1991. The Handbook of British Mammals. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications.

Ognev, S. 1966. Mammals of the U.S.S.R. and Adjacent Countries. Jerusalem: Israel Program for Scientific Translations.