Desert hares (Lepus tibetanus) are only found in the Palearctic region of Asia. Their geographic distribution includes Afghanistan and Baluchistan, extending eastward through parts of northern Pakistan and Kashmir, and continuing east to northwestern parts of the Altai Mountains. They can also be found in parts of southern Mongolia and northwestern China. (Johnston, 2008; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)
Desert hares are found in a number of different habitats. They inhabit scrub and grassland areas of the desert, semi-desert, and steppe habitats. Desert hares prefer to live in large open habitats, like other members of the hare and rabbit family. They do not typically live in burrows. Instead they run and flee as a mode predator avoidance, as opposed to to hiding underground. They lie in 'forms', which are shallow dips in the ground, and they rest under vegetation to help keep cool. They build simple nests above ground with different types of vegetation and sleep in these nests at night. Desert hares' fur provides camouflage, which helps hide them from predators. (Brands, 2012; New World Encyclopedia Contributors, 2008; Pintus, 2006)
Hares are a good example of Bergmann’s rule: the further north you travel from the equator, typically, the larger the species. At the equator, hares weigh about 2 kg or less, in temperate regions they average about 3 kg, and weights in the far north reach about 5 kg. Desert hares weigh between 1.6 to 2.5 kg and reach lengths of 40 to 76 cm. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2012; New World Encyclopedia Contributors, 2008)
Desert hares have a very sleek slender body, with a relatively small head. Their dorsal pelage is sandy yellow and may be tinged black. In the winter, they turn a grayer sandy-brown as their fur thickens. Their hips are grayish and the outsides of their hind legs and forefeet are white. Their forefeet are also well-furred. Their underside is pale yellow to white. Their ears are wide, with a blackish brown color at the tips and their tail is blackish brown as well. A light ring encircles both of their eyes. They have long premaxillary bones, but a short nasal bone. Their supraorbital bone is curved upward and they have a broad zygomatic arch, along with large auditory bullae and large procumbent incisors. Desert hares are sometimes confused with their relative, woolly hares. The range of woolly hares extends through western and central China, slightly overlapping with desert hares. Both species share many characteristics, such as long premaxillary bones, short nasal bones, large procumbent incisors and similar coat color. Desert hares also have a small overlap in range distribution with tolai hares, but they are fairly easy to distinguish. Unlike desert hares, tolai hares have laurel red stripes, solid gray hips and a long nasal bone. (Brands, 2012; Pintus, 2006; Smith and Xie, 2008)
All hares communicate largely through smell, especially during the mating season. Desert hares secrete scent products from special glands located in their groin area and under their chin. They rub pheromones from scent glands on their fur against rocks and shrubs to deposit the smell to the environment. They may leave scent tracks with their feces or urine, to mark territories or show female reproductive status. Scent secretion plays a key role in sexual communication, as well as social hierarchy signaling. Male desert hares undergo rapid hormonal changes during the mating season. They become much bolder and engage in fights with other males while pursuing a female. Because scent secretions play a role in signaling social rank, this has a major impact on which males choose to engage in physical activity. Dominant males often fight to compete for a female. They kick with their hind feet and fight with their forefeet, much like a fighter in a boxing match. Males are very aggressive with females before mating. If a female is unwilling to mate, the male will often kick and even bite the female, which can lead to serious injury. To prevent bodily harm, females are often submissive to larger dominant males during mating. Both male and female desert hares are promiscuous, so they mate with multiple hares throughout mating seasons, never forming long-lasting pair bonds. (New World Encyclopedia Contributors, 2008; Pintus, 2006)
Reproduction occurs many times in a given year, depending on the amount of resources available; usually between four or five times. If resources are scarce, the female's desire to mate will be suppressed. Desert hares usually have small litters compared to other common hares and jackrabbits, due to lack of resources. Litter sizes range from one to three young, called 'leverets'. This is a small litter when compared to hares native to the far north, such as snowshoe hares. Hares from the north usually only conceive once, but the litter size may contain as many as 17 leverets. Desert hares comparatively small litter sizes may explain why they reproduce so many times a year. (New World Encyclopedia Contributors, 2008)
The average birth mass of desert hares is unknown. However their close relatives, cape hares, have an average birth mass of 118.4 grams. The birth mass of desert hares may be similar. The gestation period of desert hares is about 50 days; this is a relatively long gestation time when compared to rabbits. Hares do not give birth underground or in burrows, but instead make 'forms'. Forms are shallow depressions in the ground, or a flattened area of vegetation. Due to their lack of physical protection, their young are highly adapted. They are born with open eyes and fully furred bodies. This allows them to fend for themselves shortly after birth. Desert hares provide very minimal care for their young and have an unusual nursing system. Young are allowed to extract milk from the female only once every 24 hours, for about five minutes or less. The lactation period lasts between 17 to 23 days, at the end of this time, leverets are independent. There is very little social connection or contact between a mother desert hares and her young. This is believed to be a survival adaptation, decreasing the chances of mother and young being spotted by predators. (Cultnat, 2012; New World Encyclopedia Contributors, 2008; Pintus, 2006; Smith and Xie, 2008)
Male and female desert hares provide little parental care, post birth. Males are usually not involved at all, they spend much of their energy mating. However, if a male sees an adult female attacking her young, they will intervene. This behavior in leporids is known as policing. Young are born with eyes open and a fully furred body, making them ready for their environment as soon as they are born. Mothers allow young to suckle once a day for five minutes or less, the lactation period last 17 to 23 days. After young are born, females invest very little, for a very short amount of time. (New World Encyclopedia Contributors, 2008; Pintus, 2006)
Little is known about the longevity of desert hares. However, they are expected to fend for themselves when they are about 20 days old. Most will be killed or eaten before they are even a year old. Overall, the lifespan of wild hares is relatively low, although they have been known to reach up to five years of age. In captivity, hares have reached ages of six to seven years. (Pintus, 2006)
With the exception of mating season, desert hares are generally solitary mammals. They communicate with other hares when danger is approaching by drumming their feet, but do not depend on a group for safety. They become independent at a very young age and spend most of their life alone. Social hierarchies are seen during the mating season and sometimes during times of drought. Desert hares are primarily crepuscular, meaning they are active mainly at dawn and dusk, making behavior studies difficult. (Johnston, 2008; New World Encyclopedia Contributors, 2008; Pintus, 2006)
Most desert hares are non-territorial and don’t mind sharing home ranges with other hares. One hare can occupy a home range as large as 740 acres, depending on resource availability (the key factor in determining home range size). If resources are abundant, hares will not waste time and energy traveling any further than is needed. Ranges tend to overlap in areas with sufficient feeding grounds. (Pintus, 2006)
Desert hares are mostly solitary animals. They communicate with other hares during the mating season and when predators are spotted. They communicate using tactile and acoustic techniques, by drumming their feet to alert danger. Other hares may hear the warning, or feel the vibrations in the ground, if they are nearby. During the mating season, desert hares secrete scent products from special glands located in their groin area and under their chin. They rub scent secretions on their fur and against rocks and shrubs to deposit the smell. Dominant males leave scent tracks in their feces and urine, to mark mating territories; this will repel younger males, but will attract larger dominant males. When this happens, males fight by kicking and boxing, the victorious male will remain in that breeding territory. Likewise, the male mating scent also attracts females in estrus. Females track with their urine and feces to advertise their reproductive status to males. Other than marking mating territories, desert hares are usually non-territorial and do not fight for food or space. (New World Encyclopedia Contributors, 2008; Pintus, 2006)
Desert hares are herbivorous mammals that meet their nutritional and moisture requirements by eating a variety of plants. They also eat seeds, berries, roots, and twigs. Their procumbent incisors make it easy to break apart more fibrous materials, such as roots and twigs. Saltbushes (Atriplex), a common plant found in climates with salty or gravelly soil, are a large part of their diet. Saltbushes are adapted to grow in salty or alkaline sites and are often the only plants to tolerate these conditions. They can form large stands spanning for miles, providing large food availability for the hares. Saltbushes grow in areas of high salinity and are adapted to tolerate up to six percent salinity in the water. This indicates that their kidneys must be physiologically adapted to tolerate high salt intake. (Deacon and Von Broembsen, 2012; Duralia, 2009; Smith and Xie, 2008)
Running up to 45 miles per hour, desert hares rely on speed to avoid predators. Because they live in open areas and often do not dig burrows, desert hares must rely on speed and agility to escape pursuing predators. They are also equipped with large, laterally set eyes. These eyes are very good at detecting motion in almost any direction, due to their nearly circular field of vision. Their coat also provides camouflage. They lie on vegetation, flattening and elongating their bodies to blend in with their surroundings. This is very beneficial when the animal needs rest, or when they are trying to avoid heat exhaustion. Desert hares, along with many other species of hares and rabbits, give warning signals when a predator is approaching. They thump their hind feet and have distress calls to warn other hares of danger. (New World Encyclopedia Contributors, 2008; Pintus, 2006; Wilson and Reeder, 2005)
Desert hares play many important roles in the desert ecosystem; their most important role is likely the food source they provide to desert carnivores. They are food to a number of birds of prey and small mammals, such as foxes. Seed dispersion by animals is very important in the desert habitat and desert hares play a role in this process. Desert hares often eat seeds and berries. As they move about their home range and defecate, they disperse the seeds to different areas, allowing for growth. Although uncommon, some desert hares resort to using burrows built by red foxes and sand foxes as a means of safety, or shelter from the sun. Abandoned forms create resting areas for daytime animals and are often used by small rodents, such as mice and gerbils, as entryways to burrows. This commensal behavior allows small mammals to benefit from their behavior. (Duralia, 2009; Smith and Xie, 2008)
For the most part, desert hares tend to avoid human interaction. But humans still find ways to derive economic, recreational and even culinary benefits from them. Historically, humans have relied on hares as an important food source and have used them in pelt trades. Some Asian countries, such as China, have hunted desert hares as a recreational sport. Desert hares also play an important role in seed dispersion. This aids plant diversity and even extends the range of certain desert plants. (Duralia, 2009; New World Encyclopedia Contributors, 2008)
As stated previously, desert hares tend to stay away from humans, but in some areas where niches of humans and hares do overlap, they can be a little troublesome. Desert hares consume a considerable amount of plant life for survival. In areas where humans and hares share habitats this may become an issue. Hares will eat many forms of vegetation and will often eat plant life that citizens want left alone. They get into gardens and yards and consume whatever vegetation is available. (New World Encyclopedia Contributors, 2008)
According to the IUCN Redlist, there are no data regarding the population or threats to desert hares. (Johnston, 2008)
Shaunna Sullivan (author), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Christopher Yahnke (editor), University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Laura Podzikowski (editor), Special Projects, Leila Siciliano (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
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.
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.
in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.
ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates
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
union of egg and spermatozoan
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.
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.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.
chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species
the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.
"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.
specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.
communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
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.
movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others
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.
breeding takes place throughout the year
young are relatively well-developed when born
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