PEI

Hop to it! 5 fun facts about snowshoe hares

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.

That wascally wabbit might actually be a snowshoe hare

The snowshoe hare's coat turns white in the winter. (Shutterstock/JoshCW Photo)

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.

Rabbits, shown here, are generally smaller and than hares and take longer to wean off their mothers. (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.

A typical snowshoe hare track, with the larger hind legs landing in front of the front legs, says 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."

Snowshoe hares live only about a year or two in the wild. (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.

This snowshoe hare was in a hurry, as indicated by the distance between front and hind feet and the widely spaced tracks, MacQuarrie says. (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. 

The Island Nature Trust recently posted a picture of a snowshoe hare to its Instagram page. (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."

More from CBC P.E.I.

 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now