Lepus arcticusArctic hare

Geographic Range

Arctic hare, Lepus arcticus, are found in the northernmost regions of Greenland, the Arctic Islands and Canada, including Ellesmere Island and further south in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Best and Henry, 1994)

Habitat

Arctic hare, which are well adapted to cold weather and frozen precipitation, are found in mountainous tundras, rocky plateaus and treeless coasts. In these locations, the average daily temperature from March to November is -26.9 degrees Celsius, and average snowfall is 37.5 cm. Arctic hare can be found at elevations between 0 and 900 km. (Best and Henry, 1994; Small, et al., 1991)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 900 km
    0.00 to 559.23 mi

Physical Description

Arctic hare have large, heavily padded feet with strong front and hind claws and are larger than other species of hare. An adult ranges from 3 to 5 kg in mass and from 480 to 600 mm in length. On average, they measure 558 mm in length. Year-round, Arctic hare have thick, gray fur on their chest and underbelly. However, the color of the rest of their coat changes seasonally. During the winter season, their coat is long, thick, soft and white and their ears are black-tipped. Throughout the summer, their coat molts to a brownish-gray or gray-blue color. Their face and feet are the first to molt, followed by the ears, shoulders, legs, and backside. Females undergo this change earlier than males. At birth, Arctic hare are gray and weigh an average of 105 g. Their fur changes to white during their first winter, and the tips of their ears become grayer. During the summer months, the fur of young Arctic hare contains more black than the fur of adults. (Best and Henry, 1994; Howell, 1936)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    3 to 5 kg
    6.61 to 11.01 lb
  • Range length
    480 to 600 mm
    18.90 to 23.62 in
  • Average length
    558 mm
    21.97 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.36 cm3.O2/g/hr

Reproduction

Arctic hare find a new mate during each breeding season. Males attract females by physical contact, such as scratching and licking and a male follows the female until mating occurs. Males can be fairly aggressive during copulation and may bite a female's neck, drawing blood. Until offspring are born, a mating pair remains together, often settling away from other hares. Upon birth, males typically leave their partner to find another mate. (Best and Henry, 1994; Hearn, et al., 1987; Swihart, 1984)

Arctic hare typical mate in April or May. Females have, on average, 1 litter per year but can have 2 litters. Litters range in size from 2 to 8 offspring, unlike other members of the genus g. Lepus, of which the litters range from 1 to 4 offspring. The gestation period of Arctic hare is approximately 50 days, and offspring are usually born in May or June. Arctic hare weigh on average 105 g at birth. Juveniles become mostly independent after 2 to 3 weeks, but remain close to their mother until weaning occurs at 8 or 9 weeks after birth. Arctic hares reach sexually maturity at approximately 315 days of age, meaning hares are able to breed the spring directly following their birth. (Best and Henry, 1994; Swihart, 1984)

  • Breeding interval
    Arctic hare typically breed once a year but may breed twice in one season.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season of Arctic hare spans April to September.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 8
  • Average number of offspring
    5.8
  • Average gestation period
    50 days
  • Range weaning age
    8 to 9 weeks
  • Range time to independence
    2 to 3 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    315 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    315 days

Male Arctic hare may remain near the nest for a few days after birth of their offspring but are otherwise absent. For the first 2 to 3 days after giving birth, females do not leave sight of her offspring so as to protect and defend the nest. After 3 days, young Arctic hare are able to protect themselves by hiding or remaining very still. Females nurse their young every 18 to 20 hours, and young are weaned at 8 to 9 weeks of age. As juveniles mature, they spend a decreasing amount of time with their mother. (Best and Henry, 1994; Swihart, 1984)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents

Lifespan/Longevity

Little information is available regarding the longevity of Arctic hare, though anecdotal evidence suggests they live 3 to 5 years. Arctic hare do not survive well in captivity. ("Arctic Hare", 2009; Best and Henry, 1994)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    1.5 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    3 to 5 years

Behavior

Although on occasion Arctic hare interact with other members of the species and may form large groups, they are generally solitary outside of breeding season. They are terricolous and motile and move around by hopping and jumping. When threatened, they stand up on their hind legs, keeping a forelimb tucked in close to their body. They have the ability to hop away in this stance, which creates tracks in the snow that appear to have been made by a three-legged animal. Arctic hare are good swimmers and run very fast, attaining speeds up to 64 km/h. They burrow underground and are able to dig through snow to find food. (Best and Henry, 1994; Hearn, et al., 1987; Swihart, 1984)

  • Range territory size
    520,000 to 1,550,000 m^2

Home Range

Because Arctic hare cover wider distances to find potential mates during the breeding season, the home range of Arctic hare is larger during warmer spring and summer months (March to April) than during winter months. The home range of males is 116 to 155 ha, which is considerably larger than the home range for females, which is generally 52 to 69 ha. (Best and Henry, 1994; Hearn, et al., 1987; Swihart, 1984)

Communication and Perception

Arctic hares are nocturnal, although during the winter months, they rest more sporadically throughout the day. Arctic hare are generally solitary outside of mating season, but they have been known to gather in groups of 100 or more. While hare in these groups rest, one individual remains awake to guard the herd. As pairs of Arctic hare form during mating season, large groups are much less common. Arctic hares communicate with each other via snapping, boxing, scratching, and laying their ears back. Male and female arctic hares show affection by licking or scratching. (Best and Henry, 1994; Klein and Bay, 1994)

Food Habits

Arctic hares feed primarily on woody plants such as saxifrage, crowberry, and dwarf willow. Willow constitutes 95% of their diet in every season. During the summer, their diet is more diverse but still primarily consists of willow, dryas and grasses. Arctic hare can eat a wide variety of other food sources, including lichens and mosses, blooms, leaves, twigs and roots, mountain sorrel and macroalgae (seaweed). On occasion, Arctic hare eat meat, including fish and the stomach contents of eviscerated caribou. Arctic hare eat snow to obtain water. (Best and Henry, 1994; Howell, 1936)

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

Predation

Arctic hare are well adapted to avoid predators. During the winter, their white fur blends in with snow and acts as camouflage. During the spring and summer, their fur is a brownish-gray, which also blends in with the ground and surrounding habitat. A few days after birth, young Arctic hare are able to defend themselves by hiding or remaining motionless. As they mature, they become incredibly agile and can reach speeds of 64 km/h, allowing them to outrun predators. Young arctic hare are more likely to fall prey than adults. Predators of Arctic hare include Arctic foxes, red foxes, gray wolves, Canada lynx, ermines, snowy owls, gyrfalcons, and rough-legged hawks. Humans also capture Arctic hare for food and materials. (Best and Henry, 1994; Fitzgerald and Keith, 1990; Small, et al., 1991)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Arctic hare disperse seeds, which they eat. They also compete for food resources with two other herbivores in their geographic range, muskoxen and caribou, which eat many of the same things. There are four known groups of parasites that use Arctic hares as a host. These parasites are: protozoans, including Eimeria exigua, E. magna, E. perforans, and E. sculpta; nematodes, including Filaria and Oxyuris ambigua; lice, including Haemodipsus lyriocephalus and H. setoni; and most commonly fleas, including Hoplopsyllus glacialis, Euhoplopsyllus glacialis, and Megabothris groenlandicus. (Best and Henry, 1994)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Arctic hare are a source of both clothing and food for the native people of the Arctic. Eskimos use the absorbent fur to make gloves and hats, bandages and feminine supplies. The skin is used for blankets, stockings, and pants, although it is thin and tears easily. Eskimos utilize pelts to make towels, and in some cases, to plug rifle barrels. Arctic hare are also a food source to Eskimos, who utilize every part of the animal except the intestines. The white flesh is usually lean and full-flavored, though additional fat is often added to provide more flavor. The quality and taste of the flesh varies with age, sex, and season. During mating season, for example, males are nearly inedible. Arctic hare are quite thin during the winter, providing less meat. The ear cartilage is considered a delicacy. Eskimos often break the hind leg bones and suck out the bone marrow. They may also chew the milk glands and consume the milk within as a remedy for nausea. (Best and Henry, 1994)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Arctic hare on humans.

Conservation Status

Arctic hare are considered to be at low risk and of least concern by the IUCN Red List.

Contributors

Brooke Betzler (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Gail McCormick (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

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

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

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

coastal

the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

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.

drug

a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease

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

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

food

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

fossorial

Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

macroalgae

seaweed. Algae that are large and photosynthetic.

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

polar

the regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.

polygynandrous

the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

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

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

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.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

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Barta, R. 1992. Demographic responses of Arctic hares Lepus arcticus placed on two predominantly forested islands in Newfoundland. Ecography, 15/2: 161-165.

Best, T., T. Henry. 1994. Lepus arcticus. Mammalian Species, 457: 1-9.

Fitzgerald, S., L. Keith. 1990. Intra- and inter-specific dominance relationships among arctic and snowshoe hares. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 68/3: 457-464.

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Hearn, B., L. Keith, O. Rongstad. 1987. Demography and ecology of the Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) in southwestern Newfoundland. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 65/4: 852-861.

Howell, A. 1936. A revision of the American Arctic hares. Journal of Mammalogy, 17/4: 315-337.

Klein, D., C. Bay. 1994. Resource partitioning by mammalian herbivores in the high Arctic. Oecologia, 97/4: 439-450.

McNab, B. 1980. Food habits, energetics, and the population biology of mammals. The American Naturalist, 116/1: 106-124.

Peterson, U. 1998. Food habits of Arctic wolves in Greenland. Journal of Mammalogy, 79/1: 236-244.

Small, R., L. Keith, R. Barta. 1991. Dispersion of introduced arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) on islands off Newfoundland's south coast.. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 69/10: 2618-2623.

Smith, A. 2004. Lagomorpha (Pikas, rabbits, and hares).. Pp. 479-489 in Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 16, 2 Edition. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomas Gale.

Swihart, R. 1984. Body size, breeding season length, and life history tactics of lagomorphs. Oikos, 43/3: 282-290.