Woolly hares are high-altitude lagomorphs that are native to the Tibetan plateau in western/southwestern China, India, and northern Nepal. (Chapman and Flux, 1990)
Woolly hares can be found in high altitude meadow steppes, dry alpine steppes, grasslands, grassy marshlands, shrubs, evergreen forests, and sometimes farmlands. They are found at altitudes ranging from 2500 m to 5400 m and have the widest elevational range of any leporid. They are able to survive in dry habitats, including grasslands and steep mountainsides, where most rodents cannot. No other member of Lepus is sympatric with woolly hares. (Chang and Wang, 1963; Feng, et al., 1986; Li, 2008; Lu, 2010; Suryawanshi, et al., 2010)
Woolly hares are relatively large compared to other leporids. Their heads and muzzles are slightly longer than those of their close relatives, cape hares. Dorsal side pelage from the nose to the back is slightly wavy and color varies from yellowish-white to yellowish-brown. The rump can be any color from brownish-gray to silver-gray and their short tail can be white, white with narrow gray stripes, or white with wide grayish-black stripes. The fur on the throat can be any shade of brown. Abdominal fur is mostly white and can have a light brown line along the mid-ventral line. In most cases, the base color of the body is white, but occasionally includes gray accents. The fur on the limbs is brownish-white, while the fur on the base of the feet is dark brown. Leverets (i.e., juvenile hares) are entirely brownish-yellow with wavy dorsal fur, and they lack the gray rump seen in adults. It has been suggested that leverets do not acquire adult pelage until after their first molt. Like most other Lepus species, female woolly hares are bigger than males. Females have an average mass of 2409.1 g and an average body length of 455.7 mm. Males have an average mass of 2156.7 g and an average body length of 446.1 mm. Tail length (85.1 mm) and hind leg length (117.6 mm) do not vary between genders. Seven subspecies of Lepus oiostolus are recognized. (Cai and Feng, 1982; Feng, et al., 1986)
Although no information on the woolly hares’ mating system is available, there is a wealth of information on the mating systems of their close relative, European hares. During the breeding season, male and female European hares maintain individual areas of activity. Males possess larger territories than females, which gives them the opportunity to mate with multiple individuals. After mating, males defend mated females from conspecific rivals. A male's potential number of mates is positively correlated with his territory size and negatively correlated with their potential mates' territory size. Both genders mate with multiple individuals. (Cowan and Bell, 1986; Grzimek, 2003a)
Woolly hares are generally timid and cautious. During the breeding season, from May to July, they become active and look for mates throughout the day. Usually a few males follow one female; they feed together and chase each other while sometimes making brief “gu gu” sounds. In order to attract females, males jump and “integrate interesting motions” while in the air (Li, 2008). When males fight, they stand on their hind legs and bite or box, with the victor gaining mating privileges. A majority of knowledge concerning lagomorph reproduction is acquired through the study of European rabbits. Female European rabbits exhibit induced ovulation, which occurs 12 hours after females come into estrus, attract, and copulate with males. Other lagomorphs are assumed to follow the similar mechanism. Many leporids post-partum estrous, and European hares can carry multiple litters, each of a different age (i.e., superfetation). Female woolly hares usually give birth in abandoned dens, such as the created by Himalayan marmots, whose holes can be found in tall grass or in the forest. They have also been known to give birth in scrubby vegetation. On average, adult females produce 1.5 litters within a two month mating period, and litter size ranges from 1 to 2 leverets, with an average of 1.8. Litter size in mammals often depends on climate and decreases with increasing latitude or altitude. Woolly hares follow these trends and have the lowest annual reproductive output among any known Lepus species. A combination of factors, including low oxygen availability, limited food supply, and harsh climate are probably responsible. (Feng, et al., 1986; Grzimek, 2003b; Grzimek, 2003a; Li, 2008; Lu, 2010; Swihart, 1984)
Although no information is available on the average birth mass of woolly hares’, one study found 2 newborn leverets toward the end of July and the beginning of August whose masses were 105 and 142 g, respectively. The same researchers found a female woolly hare with fully developed mammary glands in September. There is no information available concerning gestation in woolly hares, time to independence, or age at sexual or reproductive maturity. Gestation period in European hares is 41 to 42 days, and young become reproductively active when around 244 days old. Age of independence for most leporids is 17 to 23 days. (Feng, et al., 1986; Grzimek, 2003b; Grzimek, 2003a; Li, 2008; Lu, 2010; Swihart, 1984)
There is no information available regarding parental care in woolly hares. However, European hares give birth to precocial leverets that are completely covered in fur. At birth, the eyes are already open, and leverets are able to walk. Paternal care has not been thoroughly described for most leporids. Most leporids provide highly nutritious milk for a few minutes each day during brief nursing periods each day. Reduced nursing time is thought to reduce risk of predation for leverets. (Cowan and Bell, 1986; Grzimek, 2003a)
There is no information available regarding the life span of woolly hares.
Woolly hares are diurnal and are active from dusk to dawn. During the day, they hide and rest in low-lying areas around tussocks, knolls, or gaps between rocks. Daily activities depends on the availability of vegetation, such as bushes, for hiding. Hares evade predators by outrunning them and baffling predators by backtracking. Their long legs, big hind feet, and distally fused fibula and tibia reduce weight on the leg while giving it extra strength. For example, a research team in Tibet saw a woolly hare dodging an upland buzzard until the bird gave-up and left. Although most hares are solitary, European hares form large communal groups. (Feng, et al., 1986; Grzimek, 2003b)
Although there is no information available regarding communication and perception in woolly hares, olfaction plays an important role in intraspecific communication of most lagomorphs and all have an acute sense of smell. They have glands on the chin, cheek, and/or groin areas, which produce pheromones that are rubbed onto the coat during grooming. They mark their territory and announce their reproductive status by depositing urine and feces or by leaving their scent on rocks and shrubs. Vocal communication is rare in hares, although shrieking during capture is common. However, no evidence has been found to show such sounds are warnings for other hares. All hares have well developed hearing abilities. Leporids have large, laterally positioned eyes that produce a nearly circular field of vision, which allows them to detect and avoid potential predators. Hares that live in open areas flag their tail to warn conspecifics when they are pursued by predators. (Cowan and Bell, 1986; Grzimek, 2003b)
Woolly hares are herbivorous and commonly eat grass and young leaves of bushes. In agricultural regions, they may eat seedlings, fruits or crops. During winter, especially after snowstorms, they travel further to residential areas to forage due to the lack of food within their normal activity range. They may pass through fences and gain access to oats, highland barley, and peas that are cultivated for livestock. In areas where there is transportation, woolly hares are known to consume the grains that fall from passing trucks. Many hares living in dry habitats are coprophagic, which helps reduce water loss and increases nutrient extraction of ingested plant materials. (Feng, et al., 1986; Li, 2008)
Medium- to large-sized carnivores such as snow leopards, lynxes, wolves, and foxes including Tibetan foxes are known predators of woolly hares. Large birds such as upland buzzards also prey on woolly hares, while mountain weasels prey on newborns. The coloration of woolly hares may help camouflage them from potential predators. Many individuals live in dens, which likely helps reduce risk of predation while resting. (Feng, et al., 1986)
Wooly hares are herbivores and may disperse seeds in their feces and are an important prey species for a number of medium to large-bodied carnivores. They are intermediate hosts for a cyclophyllid tapeworm, Echinococcus multilocularis. The tapeworms cause the formation of multicystic hydatids in the livers and lungs of the hares. Larvae of E. multilocularis are more commonly found in smaller mammals, such as squirrels, pikas, jerboas, gerbils, rats, mice, moles, shrews, voles and lemmings. Medium-sized mammals are rarely hosts. Woolly hares are the first species of hares known to transmit E. multilocularis. The transmission process continues via predator-prey relationships between those species and larger mammals. In the Tibetan plateau, predators include domestic and wild canids such as red foxes, Tibetan foxes, and dogs. All these predators are known definitive hosts for E. multilocularis. Woolly hares are the definitive host to another species of tapeworm, Mosgovoyia pectinata. The eggs of M. pectinata within proglottids are passed out in the hare’s feces, where they develop and become infectious. They are then ingested by moss mites, in which they continue their development. Finally, the parasites are accidentally taken in by the definitive hosts via ingestion of the infected mites on vegetation. (Boag, et al., 2001; Lin and Hong, 1986; Xiao, et al., 2004)
Humans hunt woolly hares for the tender meat they provide. Due to their wide distribution and large population in Tibet, hunts are organized for buying, selling, and exporting woolly hares. Though the pelt can be utilized, the thin and fragile skin makes the pelt virtually useless. According to the Encyclopedia of Medicine in the Tibetan Plateau, the brain of woolly hares can cure dysentery and abdominal pain, the dried heart can cure heart disease, and the milk can heal eye inflammation. (Feng, et al., 1986)
Woolly hares sometimes consume forage cultivated for humans and livestock. They are hosts for the tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis, which can be transmitted to domestic animals, such as dogs. (Feng, et al., 1986; Li, 2008; Xiao, et al., 2004)
Although woolly hares are considered a species of least concern on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species, local populations in India are listed as endangered. Habitat loss is considered their biggest threat, which has lead to their precipitous decline in India. (Lu, 2010)
Woolly hares are on the People's Republic of China State Forestry Administration list of terrestrial wildlife that are beneficial to the country or important to economy and scientific studies. (Wang, 2007)
Jarita Ng (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, John Berini (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.
living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
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.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
active at dawn and dusk
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.
a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease
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.
parental care is carried out by females
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
an animal that mainly eats fruit
an animal that mainly eats seeds
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
ovulation is stimulated by the act of copulation (does not occur spontaneously)
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).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.
chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species
communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
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.
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).
Living on the ground.
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.
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.
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.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
young are relatively well-developed when born
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