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Home  >  Cool Critters  >  Featured Critters  >  Small Mammals
Arctic Hare
Cool Critter Factoids
Latin Name: Lepus arcticus
Habitat: Alaska, northern Canada and Greenland
Classification: Mammal, herbivore

Arctic hares are hardly like the cute, fuzzy bunnies found at the pet store. They are well-adapted to the wild, strong runners and clever survivors.

Blending In
In the summer months, arctic hares are usually brown and gray, and they shed their fur when the temperatures warm up. But in the winter, the arctic hare's fur turns snowy white to match the winter landscape. Only the tips of their ears stay dark.

Think about it: How does white fur help arctic hares survive the winter months?

Wanna Race?
Arctic hares are the largest hares. A full-grown arctic hare is usually around two feet long, and weighs about twelve pounds. It has long, muscular hind legs and feet that allows it to move quickly over snow and ice--up to 40 mph! Arctic hares don't take short hops like bunnies. They use their powerful hind legs to propel themselves, like kangaroos.

Think about it: Next time you go to the store, ask the driver to tell you when you're going 40 mph. Imagine if you could run that fast!

Customized for the Cold
As the largest of the hares, arctic hares need special adaptations and behavior to survive in cold Arctic winters. Their ears are much shorter than those of desert hares. Shorter ears mean that the hares can warm themselves more efficiently; their hearts don't have to pump blood so far from the center of their bodies. But this doesn't mean that arctic hares can't hear well. They have very keen senses of hearing, smell, and sight. They can smell their food, even through thick snow and ice. Their dark eyes sit near the tops of their heads, giving them a wide range of sight. When arctic hares spy predators, they use their white camouflage as their first defense. They freeze and wait until they are spotted before trying to run to safety.

Arctic hares have unusual habits that help protect them from cold environment and predators. Sometimes they huddle in large groups, hundreds of them, keeping their bodies close together for warmth. If a hungry wolf or arctic fox happens to surprise the group, the hares scatter into different directions and confuse their predators with their speed and numbers. However, arctic hares don't always get along with each other. They have been known to stand on their back legs, and box and scratch at each other to impress females during mating season. At rest, arctic hares appear smaller than they actually are. They sit on their legs and flatten their ears to conserve their body heat.

Think about it: How does huddling with other cold people keep you warmer?

Waiter, there's a Hare in my soup!
Even though hares are super-fast, many predators can still hunt and kill them. Their most common enemy is the wolf, but arctic hares also have to protect themselves from polar bears, arctic foxes, ermines and large birds like falcons or eagles.

What's for Lunch, Mom?

Arctic hares struggle to find food during the winter, but the sharp nails on their feet help them scratch and dig through ice and snow. In Alaska, arctic hares prefer to eat the leaves, bark, twigs and roots of the willow tree. They also eat small grasses and flowers. Although they enjoy plants, arctic hares might also eat carrion, or the decaying flesh of other animals. Food can be scarce in the winter, and arctic hares will even eat carcasses to stay alive.

They may be clever little animals, but arctic hares rarely survive for more than a few years in the wild. They spend most of their time in high rocky areas instead of lower forested parts of Alaska. They are nocturnal animals, and usually huddle in shallow dens called "forms" during the day.

Baby, Baby
Male hares called "bucks," mate with a female hare or "doe," during the spring. After she mates, a doe carries her litter for about fifty days before she gives birth. She may have up to nine "leverets," or young arctic hares, at once. The leverets are ready for life in Alaska almost as soon as they are born. They can see clearly and burrow their own forms when they are only a few days old.

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Image provided by BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.

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