Photo: Snowshoe hare sitting in the snow

The aptly named snowshoe hare has particularly large feet and a winter-white coat. In the summer though, its fur turns brown, taking up to ten weeks to change color completely.

Photograph by Michael S. Quinton

Map

Map: Snowshoe hare range

Snowshoe Hare Range

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Fast Facts

Type:
Mammal
Diet:
Herbivore
Average life span in the wild:
1 year or less
Size:
16 to 20 in (41.3 to 51.8 cm)
Weight:
2 to 4 lbs (0.9 to 1.8 kg)
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Snowshoe hare compared with adult man

Snowshoe hares are forest-dwellers that prefer the thick cover of brushy undergrowth. They are primarily a northern species that inhabits boreal forests and can also range as far north as the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Along North American mountain ranges, where elevation simulates the environment of more northerly latitudes, they can be found as far south as Virginia (the Appalachians) and New Mexico (the Rockies).

Hares are a bit larger than rabbits, and they typically have taller hind legs and longer ears. Snowshoe hares have especially large, furry feet that help them to move atop snow in the winter. They also have a snow-white winter coat that turns brown when the snow melts each spring. It takes about ten weeks for the coat to completely change color.

Snowshoe hares feed at night, following well worn forest paths to feed on trees and shrubs, grasses, and plants.

These animals are nimble and fast, which is fortunate, because they are a popular target for many predators. Lynx, fox, coyote, and even some birds of prey hunt this wary hare.

Like most hares (and rabbits), snowshoe hares are prolific breeders. Females have two or three litters each year, which include from one to eight young per litter. Young hares, called leverets, require little care from their mothers and can survive on their own in a month or less. Snowshoe hare populations fluctuate cyclically about once a decade—possibly because of disease. These waning and waxing numbers greatly impact the animals that count on hares for food, particularly the lynx.

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