Arctic hare

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Arctic hare
Arctic Hare 1.jpg
Arctic hare
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Lagomorpha
Family: Leporidae
Genus: Lepus
L. arcticus
Binomial name
Lepus arcticus
Ross, 1819

4, see text

Arctic Hare range.png
Arctic hare range

The Arctic hare[2] (Lepus arcticus) is a species of hare which is highly adapted to living in the Arctic tundra, and other icy biomes. The Arctic hare survives with shortened ears and limbs, a small nose, fat that makes up close to 20% of its body, and a thick coat of fur. It usually digs holes in the ground or under snow to keep warm and to sleep. Arctic hares look like rabbits but have shorter ears, are taller when standing and, unlike rabbits, can thrive in extreme cold. They can travel together with many other hares, sometimes huddling with dozens or more, but are usually found alone, sometimes taking more than one partner. The Arctic hare can run up to 60 kilometres per hour (40 mph).[3]


Arctic explorer John Ross described the Arctic hare in 1819.


The Arctic hare is one of the largest living lagomorphs. Typically, this species measures from 43 to 70 cm (17 to 28 in) long, not counting a tail length of 4.5 to 10 cm (1.8 to 3.9 in). The body mass of this species is typically between 2.5–5.5 kg (6–12 lb), though large individuals can weigh up to 7 kg (15 lb).[4]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The Arctic hare is distributed over the northernmost regions of Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands and Northern Canada, including Ellesmere Island, and farther south in Labrador and Newfoundland.[5] The Arctic hare is well adapted to conditions found in the tundras, plateaus and treeless coasts of this region, including cold weather and frozen precipitation. The Arctic hare may be found at elevations from sea level to 900 m.[5][6]

In Newfoundland and southern Labrador, the Arctic hare changes its coat color, moulting and growing new fur, from brown or grey in the summer to white in the winter, like some other Arctic animals including ermine and ptarmigan, enabling it to remain camouflaged as the environment changes.[7] However, the Arctic hares in the far north of Canada, where summer is very short, remain white all year round.[7]


The Arctic hare is a herbivore, specifically a folivore.[5] Arctic hares feed primarily on woody plants, and willow constitutes 95 percent of their diet year-round.[5] Arctic hares predominantly consume saxifrage, crowberry, and dwarf willow, but can also eat a variety of other foods, including lichens and mosses, blooms, other species' leaves, twigs and roots, mountain sorrel and macroalgae (seaweed).[5][8] Arctic hare diets are more diverse in summer, but still primarily willow, dryas and grasses.[5] Arctic hares have been reported to occasionally eat meat, including fish and the stomach contents of eviscerated caribou.[5] They eat snow to get water.[5]

Reproduction and lifespan[edit]

Summer coat

Hares can have up to eight babies, called leverets. The leverets stay within the mother's home range until they can survive on their own.[9]

There is little information on the lifespan of Arctic hares. Some anecdotal evidence suggests they live three to five years in the wild.[5] Arctic hares do not fare well in captivity, living only a year and a half at most.[5]


Known predators of the Arctic hare are the Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus), Red fox (Vulpes vulpes), Wolf (Canis lupus), Mountain lion (Puma concolor), Lynx (Lynx canadensis), Ermine (Mustela erminea), Snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus), Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus), Rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus) – and occasionally humans.[5]

The Arctic wolf is probably the most successful predator of the Arctic hare, and even young wolves in their first autumn can catch adult hares.[10] Arctic foxes and ermines, which are smaller, typically prey on young hares.[10] Gyrfalcon carry hares to their nests, cutting them in half first; gyrfalcons use hare bones and feet in the structure of their nests on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut.[10] Peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) also prey on Arctic hares in the southern end of the hares' range.[10] The Snowy owls mainly targets young hare; the French common name of the species derives from Anglo-Saxon harfang ("hare-catcher").[10]

Four groups of parasites have been known to use Arctic hares as a host: protozoans (Eimeria exigua, E. magna, E. perforans, and E. sculpta); nematodes (including Filaria and Oxyuris ambigua); lice (including Haemodipsus lyriocephalus and H. setoni) and fleas (including Hoplopsyllus glacialis, Euhoplopsyllus glacialis, and Megabothris groenlandicus.[5] Fleas are more common than parasitic worms.[5][10]

Arctic hare footprints on snow.


There are four subspecies of this hare:

  • Lepus arcticus arcticus
  • Lepus arcticus banksii
  • Lepus arcticus groenlandicus
  • Lepus arcticus monstrabilis


  1. ^ Murray, D. & Smith, A.T. (2008). "Lepus arcticus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2008: e.T41274A10410937. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2008.RLTS.T41274A10410937.en. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of least concern.
  2. ^ Hoffman, R.S.; Smith, A.T. (2005). "Order Lagomorpha". In Wilson, D.E.; Reeder, D.M (eds.). Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 195–196. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
  3. ^ "Arctic Hare". National Geographic. Retrieved September 4, 2009.
  4. ^ Burnie D and Wilson DE (Eds.), Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. DK Adult (2005), ISBN 0789477645
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Lepus arcticus (Arctic hare), Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.
  6. ^ Small, R., L. Keith, R. Barta. (1991). Dispersion of introduced Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) on islands off Newfoundland's south coast. Canadian Journal of Zoology 69(10):2618-2623.
  7. ^ a b "Arctic Wildlife". Arctic Wildlife. Churchill Polar Bears. 2011. Retrieved January 30, 2012.
  8. ^ Best, Troy L.; Henry, Travis Hill (1994). "Lepus arcticus". Mammalian Species. American Society of Mammalogists. 457 (457): 1–9. doi:10.2307/3504088. JSTOR 3504088.
  9. ^ "The Arctic Hare". Canadian Museum of Nature. Archived from the original on 2012-07-13. Retrieved 2010-07-26.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Ukaliq: the Arctic Hare, Eat and Be Eaten Archived 2006-05-10 at the Wayback Machine, Canadian Museum of Nature.