Snowshoe Hare

Lepus americanus

Species distinguishing characteristics: 

  • Named for large, heavily-furred hind feet
  • Most snowshoe hares change their coat color seasonally
  • Some hares in the Washington Cascades population stay brown all year
  • Fur on the body and head turn a dark brown during the summer and may be flecked with black
  • Ears remain white-rimmed and hind feet remain white in summer
  • Coat turns pure white during the winter, except for the black-tipped ears

Family Characteristics: 

  • Long, powerful hind legs and long, broad feet
  • Large, white-rimmed ears
  • Fur color ranges from buff or dark brown to gray to white and varies with species
  • Small, round tail
  • Males are typically larger than females

Habitat preferences: 

Dense, coniferous forests with abundant understories at mid-elevations.

Interesting facts: 

The most reliable, distinguishing feature is the snowshoe hare’s white-rimmed ears.  Their hind feet are distinct in size and remain white year-round.  Snowshoe hare’s population follows a boom and bust population cycle and collapses every 8–11 years.  They are a critical prey source for Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) and fisher (Martes pennanti). 

Reproductive characteristics: 

Breeding season extends from late February to July with the last litter of the year born in early August.  Average litter size is 2­–3 young, and the maximum litter size is 8 young.  Each pair produces up to 4 litters per season.  Gestation period is 35 days.  Young are weaned at 6 weeks old.

Food habits: 

Strict herbivore that feeds on grasses, sedges, and deciduous leaves in the summer and spring.  Diet shifts to woody browse, conifer needles, mosses, and lichens in the fall and winter.  The snowshoe hare’s cellulose-rich diet is difficult to digest.  To ease digestion, they extract additional nutrients from plant matter by re-ingesting soft, viscous fecal pellets.  This process is known as coprophagy.

Migration: 

Range extends from Alaska, United States to Newfoundland, Canada and stretches as far south as New Mexico, United States.

Biological Classification: