Distinguishing Features – Weight: 1 – 4 kg. This hare varies geographically depending on habitat and altitude. The length of the body and head ranges from 430 – 610 mm. Tail length can be as little as 40 mm or as long as 70 mm. Hind feet vary from 145 – 180 mm and ear length from 76 – 106 mm. The coloring changes with seasons; in the winter it is pure white, only the ear tips are black. In the summer, the coat changes to cinnamon-brown or a gray wash.
The tail remains white in most instances. Three types of fur are found on the hare: underfur, about 15 mm long; pile hair, about 25 mm long; and guard hairs, about 40 mm long. The color changes seen in molting are due to changes in the color of the pile hair.
Male hares are smaller than females with seasonal variation in weight. Northern hares are also heavier than southern hares.
Lepus timidus has a general range covering much of the Eurasian arctic, in and above the boreal tree line.
The diet varies not only by habitat, but also by season. In the summer, the forest inhabitants consume mostly leaves and twigs. Those that live in the tundra eat alpine plants. Grasses, lichen, and bark have also been known to been eaten. However, in the winter, when most of the food is buried under snow, heather is the predominant food source. These hares are rarely seen to drink, so it is thought that they might eat snow. Other winter adaptations include feeding with their back to the wind and clearing out snow from food surfaces with their paws.
Lepus timidus is nocturnal and spends its days resting in a “form”, a depression in the snow or ground that greatly reduces wind speed. Sometimes a form is used repeatedly, often, though, it is abandoned. Even though a hare rests during the day, it only sleeps for a few minutes at a time and carefully grooms itself when awake. It is occasionally seen in or near a burrow. Burrows are sometimes taken over from other animals, or they may be dug by the hare with its large paws. However, only leverets spend any time in the burrows. The mother hare usually sits at the opening.
Lepus arcticus is the North American cousin which lives in the arctic tundra, well above the tree line.
The Snowshoe Hare Lepus americanus is the southern version of the Arctic Hare and is widespread throughout Canada’s boreal forests.