Hop to it! 5 fun facts about snowshoe hares

·3 min read

It may look like a rabbit and hop like a rabbit, but if you see it in the P.E.I. wilderness, it's likely not a rabbit.

And we're not just splitting hares.

According to Island Nature Trust, rabbits are not native to P.E.I. So if you see a rabbit in the wild, it was likely someone's pet.

More likely, it's a snowshoe hare. They're from the same family as a rabbit, but a different species. Hares are usually larger and, unlike rabbits, will spend their lives above ground.

They can be hard to tell apart — even for an experienced hunter like Elmer Fudd. There is much debate on the internet about whether that wascally wabbit Bugs Bunny is actually a hare.

But let's not go down that rabbit hole.

Instead, here are five fun facts about snowshoe hares, with help from Lyndsay MacWilliams of Island Nature Trust and biologist Kate MacQuarrie.

Bill Graveland/Canadian Press
Bill Graveland/Canadian Press

They hit the ground running

Baby hares can hop almost immediately after they are born, MacWilliams says.

That's another one of the differences between rabbits and hares. Hares are born with fur and their eyes open. They are weaned within a couple weeks — much earlier than rabbits, which are born naked and blind.

Kate MacQuarrie
Kate MacQuarrie

They can really make tracks

Hares can reach speeds up to 45 km/h and can cover up to three metres in one hop.

They have five toes on each front foot and four toes on each hind foot. Hares' hind feet are large and act like snowshoes, preventing them from sinking in the snow.

"They almost always land with their large hind feet ahead of the smaller front feet," said MacQuarrie, who recently found some snowshoe hare tracks on her property in Queens County.

"When snow conditions make tracks less clear, you might think the animal was moving in the opposite direction."

Shutterstock/ggw
Shutterstock/ggw

They change with the seasons

One coat for all seasons? Not these furry fashionistas. In the winter, they go for the classic white. In the summer, they turn to more of a brownish grey.

"It's an adaptation they have developed," MacWilliams said. "It's to help them camouflage from their predators."

The transition from one colour to another takes about 70 to 90 days.

Kate MacQuarrie
Kate MacQuarrie

Hare today, gone tomorrow

Coyotes and foxes are their biggest predators on P.E.I., MacWilliams said. Though birds such as hawks and owls don't mind a little hare in their meals, as well.

"I also have read that squirrels will actually predate the snowshoe hares' young," she said. "But it's mostly on the Island coyotes and foxes, for sure."

When you are one of the tastiest treats in the forest, you tend to have a short lifespan — about a year or two. Luckily, they are prolific breeders, which keeps their numbers strong.

"The snowshoe hare is a very significant part of our provincial food web," MacWilliams said.

Island Nature Trust/Instagram
Island Nature Trust/Instagram

Just like chocolate raisins

Hares eat a lot of vegetation, bark and twigs, but when they digest it they aren't able to collect all the nutrients the first time through.

"So when they poop it out, they have to eat it again," MacWilliams said. "They are not the only animal to do this. I think a lot of rodents do this as well."

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