Photo: An arctic hare rests in the snow

Shortened ears and thick, white fur are among the physical traits that arctic hares have adapted to survive in the harsh, frozen tundra.

Photograph by Paul Nicklen

Map

Map: Arctic hare range

Arctic Hare Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Mammal
Diet:
Omnivore
Average life span in the wild:
Head and body, 19 to 26 in (48 to 67 cm); Tail, 1 to 3 in (3 to 8 cm)
Weight:
6 to 15 lbs (3 to 7 kg)
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Arctic hare compared with adult man

The arctic hare lives in the harsh environment of the North American tundra. These hares do not hibernate, but survive the dangerous cold with a number of behavioral and physiological adaptations. They sport thick fur and enjoy a low surface area to volume ratio that conserves body heat, most evident in their shortened ears. These hares sometimes dig shelters in snow and huddle together to share warmth.

Hares are a bit larger than rabbits, and they typically have taller hind legs and longer ears. Like other hares and rabbits, Arctic hares are fast and can bound at speeds of up to 40 miles (60 kilometers) an hour. In winter, they sport a brilliant white coat that provides excellent camouflage in the land of ice and snow. In spring, the hare's colors change to blue-gray in approximation of local rocks and vegetation.

Arctic hares are sometimes loners but they can also be found in groups of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of individuals. Unlike many mammals, arctic hare groups disperse rather than form during mating season. Animals pair off and define mating territories, though a male may take more than one female partner.

Females give birth to one litter per year, in spring or early summer. Two to eight young hares grow quickly and by September resemble their parents. They will be ready to breed the following year.

Food can be scarce in the Arctic, but the hares survive by eating woody plants, mosses, and lichens which they may dig through the snow to find in winter. In other seasons they eat buds, berries, leaves, roots, and bark.

Traditionally, the arctic hare has been important to Native Americans. These fairly plentiful animals are hunted as a food resource and for their fur, which is used to make clothing.

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