Snowshoe hare

Lepus americanus

TAXONOMY

Lepus americanus Erxleben, 1777, Fort Severn, Ontario, Canada. Fifteen subspecies.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Lièvre d'Amérique; German: Schneeschuhhase; Spanish: Liebre nival.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

The smallest of the hares with large hind feet that turn white during the winter.

DISTRIBUTION

From Alaska to Newfoundland and south through the coastal range; the Rockies and the Appalachians to northern California, northern New Mexico, and Tennessee.

HABITAT

From conifer forests to mixed forests, with a preference for transition zones.

BEHAVIOR

Populations show large synchronized fluctuations with a peak every eight to 11 years (10-year cycles). They use forms for cover during the day and make regular trails to feeding areas.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Summer diet is grasses, sedges, and various herbs, but changes to birch, aspen, willow, spruce, and pine during the winter.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Promiscuous. Most reproductive characters are related to the 10-year population cycle. Normally gives birth to two litters per year, but this can increase to four, dependent on geography and population phase. Litter sizes vary from one to 10.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Common; not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Important game species; may damage tree plantations. ♦

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