Lepus europaeusEuropean hare

Geographic Range

The natural distribution of European hares includes Great Britain and western Europe, east to through the Middle East to Central Asia (Lincoln, 1974; Broekhuizen and Maaskamp, 1980; Caillol and Meunier, 1989; Poli et al., 1991). They have been introduced by humans to several other continents. In Canada, Lepus europaeus is found in southern Ontario, around the Great Lakes, and south of the Canadian Shield. It has failed to spread further north. In the United States, European hares are now found in the north-eastern states and around the Great Lakes (Hall and Kelson, 1959). They have also been introduced to areas of South and Central America (Bonino and Montenegro, 1997) and Australia. (Bonino and Montenegro, 1997; Broekhuizen and Maaskamp, 1980; Caillol, et al., 1988; Hall and Kelson, 1959; Lincoln, 1974; Poli, et al., 1991)

Habitat

European hares prefer open fields and pastures bordered by hedgerows and woodlots, often around agriculture fields and crops. They live in shallow forms; clumps of grass, weeds, or bush (Peterson, 1966; Bansfield, 1974; William and Whitaker, 1943). (Bansfield, 1974; Hamilton and Whitaker, 1943; Peterson, 1966)

Physical Description

Total length: 600-750 (average 680) mm; Ear length, from notch: 94-102 (av. 98) mm; Tail: 72-110 (av. 95) mm; Hind foot: 142-161 (av. 151) mm; Skull length: 96-104 (av. 100) mm; Skull width: 44-51 (av. 47.3) mm (Peterson, 1966; Hall and Kelson, 1959). They have long ears with black tips and which are greyish white inside. The pelage is yellowish-brown to greyish-brown, with a greyish-white underbody. The face is brown, with eye rings. The tail is black on the top and white on the bottom. In winter, L. europaeus doesn't change its pelage to white, but does become slightly more grey (Peterson, 1966; Bansfields, 1974; Dragg, 1974). There is no noted sexual dimorphism. The skull features short, broad, heavy nasal bones, and prominent anterior and posterior lobes of the supraorbital processes. It also often has a prominent subcutaneous process of the lacrimal bone, projecting from the anterior wall of the orbit (Bansfield, 1974). (Bansfield, 1974; Dragg, 1974; Hall and Kelson, 1959; Peterson, 1966)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    3 to 5 kg
    6.61 to 11.01 lb
  • Range length
    600 to 750 mm
    23.62 to 29.53 in
  • Average length
    680 mm
    26.77 in

Reproduction

The breeding season for L. europaeus is between midwinter (January/February) and midsummer. The gestation period is between 30 and 42 days (Bansfield, 1974; Peterson, 1966). There is a high in-utero reabsorbtion rate; 7% in the spring to 25% in the autumn (Bansfield, 1974). Litter size varies between 1 and 8, the average being 3 to 5 (William and Whitaker, 1943; Bansfield, 1974). There are two to several litters a season. The weaning period is said to be about one month (Broekhuizen and Maaskamp, 1980; Bansfield, 1974). The young, called leverets, reach sexual maturity at eight months to a year in age. During autumn, the male's gonads and reproductive tract are regressed and plasma levels of testosterone and luteinizing hormone are low. In females, luteinizing hormone basal levels are at a maximum in July, the end of the reproductive season (Caillol and Meunier, 1989). (Bansfield, 1974; Broekhuizen and Maaskamp, 1980; Caillol, et al., 1988; Hamilton and Whitaker, 1943)

  • Breeding interval
    There are two to several litters a season.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season for L. europaeus is between midwinter (January/February) and midsummer.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 8
  • Average number of offspring
    3-5
  • Average number of offspring
    2
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    30 to 42 days
  • Average weaning age
    30 days
  • Average time to independence
    1 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    8 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    236 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    8 months

Leverets are precocial at birth, with long and silky fur (Peterson, 1966). To protect leverets, the mother disperses them over a moderately wide area to avoid predation on the whole litter. The mother then makes the rounds to nurse them (Bansfield, 1974). (Bansfield, 1974; Peterson, 1966)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

European hares are mainly solitary animals except during mating season. They are crepuscular and nocturnal, mostly foraging at night (between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.). European hares remain active all year round. During the day they crouch in a depression called a 'form', partially concealed with their back showing (Bansfield, 1974). European hares posess an excellent sense of sight, smell, and hearing. Upon detection of a predator, European hares will run to escape, and can dodge and change direction quickly if needed. They are very fast and have been clocked at up to 35 mph (about 60 kph) running in a straight line. They will also dive into streams if needed as they are decent swimmers (William and Whitaker; Bansfield, 1974). (Bansfield, 1974; Hamilton and Whitaker, 1943)

Home Range

There is little evidence to suggest that L. europaeus stays within a restricted home range. (Bansfield, 1974; Hamilton and Whitaker, 1943)

Communication and Perception

European hares are usually quiet animals. They make low grunts from time to time and "guttural" calls from the doe (female) to her leverets. It has been suggested that European hares grind their teeth as an alarm call. They also emit a shrill call when hurt or caught (Peterson, 1966; Bansfield, 1974). (Bansfield, 1974; Peterson, 1966)

Food Habits

European hares are herbivorous, eating grasses, herbs, and field crops during summer. During winter European hares feed on twigs, buds, shrub bark, small trees, and young fruit tree bark. They also commonly re-ingest their green, soft fecal pellets. This is known as coprophagia. Two or three adult L. europaeus can eat as much vegetation as one sheep (Banfield, 1974; William and Whitaker, 1943; Peterson, 1966). (Bansfield, 1974; Hamilton and Whitaker, 1943; Peterson, 1966)

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

Predation

Known predators include red foxes, wolves, coyotes (in their introduced range in North America), wild cats, larger hawks, and owls (Bansfield, 1974). (Bansfield, 1974)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

European hares have become an important and challenging game animal, especially in North America. The meat is said to be white and delicious (William and Whitaker, 1943; Bansfield, 1974). (Bansfield, 1974; Hamilton and Whitaker, 1943)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

In some areas, such as Argentina, Australia and, to a lesser extent, North America, L. europaeus is a pest. The problem lies in its quick reproduction and devastation to agriculture, especially young apple orchards (Bonino and Montenegro, 1997; Bansfield, 1974; William and Whitaker, 1943). (Bansfield, 1974; Bonino and Montenegro, 1997; Hamilton and Whitaker, 1943)

Conservation Status

European hares are widespread throughout Europe, where they are called common hares. European hares have done well in North America, with population numbers quickly rising to the current density. In Ontario population density has been as high as 100 per square mile, and has leveled to about 25 per square mile (Bansfield, 1974; Dragg, 1974). In recent decades there have been outbreaks of increased mortality due to disease, particularly in Europe. This syndrome includes acute hepatosis, enteritis, nephrosis, general jaundice, congestion, and hemorrhage of internal organs, and has been called European Brown Hare Syndrome (Poli et al., 1991). (Bansfield, 1974; Dragg, 1974; Poli, et al., 1991)

Other Comments

Lepus europaeus is native to Europe and South Asia, and was introduced everywhere else it is presently found. For example, it was introduced to Ontario in 1912, from Germany, and in New York State in 1893, and has been a successful game animal ever since (Dragg, 1974; William and Whitaker, 1943). In other countries such as Australia and Argentina, L. europaeus is a huge pest, with introduction resulting in agricultural disaster (Dragg, 1974; Bonino and Montenegro, 1997). Other common names for the European hare: common hare, brown hare (Caillol and Meunier, 1989; Poli et al., 1991) (Caillol, et al., 1988; Dragg, 1974; Hamilton and Whitaker, 1943; Poli, et al., 1991)

Contributors

Alan Vu (author), University of Toronto.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

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

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

Palearctic

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

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.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

coprophage

an animal that mainly eats the dung of other animals

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.

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.

introduced

referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

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

saltatorial

specialized for leaping or bounding locomotion; jumps or hops.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

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

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 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.

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.

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born

References

Bansfield, A. 1974. Mammals of Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bonino, N., A. Montenegro. 1997. Reproduction of the European hare in Pantagonia, Argentina. Acta Theriologica, 42(1): 47-54.

Broekhuizen, S., F. Maaskamp. 1980. Behaviour of does and leverets of the European hare (Lepus europaeus) whilst nursing. J. Zool. Lond., 191: 487-501.

Caillol, M., M. Meunier, M. Mondain-Monval, P. Simon. 1988. Seasonal variations in testis size, testosterone and LH basal levels, and pituitary response to luteinizing hormone releasing hormone in the brown hare, Lepus europaeus. Can. J. Zool., 67: 1626-1630.

Dragg, A. 1974. Mammals of Ontario. Waterloo, Ontario: Otter Press.

Hall, E., K. Kelson. 1959. Mammals of North America. New York: The Ronald Press Co..

Hamilton, W., J. Whitaker. 1943. Mammals of the Eastern United States. 2nd ed. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press.

Lincoln, G. 1974. Reproduction and March madness in the Brown hare, Lepus europaeus. J. Zool. Lond., 174: 1-14.

Peterson, R. 1966. The Mammals of Eastern Canada. Oxford University Press.

Poli, A., M. Nigro, D. Gallazi, G. Sironi, A. Lavazza. 1991. Acute hepatosis in the european brown hare (Lepus europaeus) in Italy. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 27(4): 621-629.