Due to the scarcity of food in the Arctic, wild hares have to eat whatever they manage to dig up through the snow in the winter — woody plants, mosses, and lichens. They feed on buds, berries, leaves, roots, and bark in other seasons.
The arctic hare is an omnivore, meaning its diet is made up of all types of foods. They have been known for primarily focusing on low-growing grasses, herbs, berries, buds, and shrubs as well as the arctic dwarf willow. Once they smell the willows under the snow, they start to dig with their especially long claws, well-adapted to the environment. With their sharp teeth, they nibble at the frozen surface to help the digging.
During sub-zero winter temperatures, arctic hares cannot rely on the food they dig up in the snow only, however. They also tend to eat animal prey and carcasses sometimes, including birds, lynx, and even other hares, National Geographic found.
To stay hydrated, arctic hares eat snow. Although their food was traditionally thought to consist mostly of willow, dryas, and grasses, current research suggests that legumes now account for 70% of their diet in the summer. Arctic hares have been observed eating meat, including fish and the stomach contents of eviscerated caribou, on rare occasions.
To sum up, arctic hares eat anything they can find in the strict weather conditions of their cold habitat:
- Woody plants
The food they obtain from under the snow, as well as snow itself and other animals’ leftover prey carcasses, ensures they receive adequate amounts of carbs, proteins, lipids, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and water. Hares receive the high amounts of fiber required for their diet by eating low grass.
Facts About Arctic Hares
- The Arctic hare, sometimes known as the polar rabbit, is a kind of hare that lives in arctic and hilly areas. These hares are significantly bigger than typical rabbits.
- Arctic hares are nocturnal creatures and prefer solitary lifestyles. However, to survive the harsh weather conditions of the Arctic, they have to gather in flocks to warm each other up. They gather in groups of 10-60 usually, but up in the extreme north, they also eat in groups of individuals, yet in the extreme north, they get together in bigger groups of up to 300.
- Arctic hares are incredibly apt. Once an arctic hare senses danger, it stands tall on two legs. They stand still for a while, observing and listening to any potential disturbance. Arctic hare is a good swimmer and swift runner.
- They’re widely hunted. Loss in regions, and merging with human settlements, as well as overhunting are all major dangers to the Arctic hare. Hunters, whose vast majority are native to the areas where the hares live, target Arctic hares for their furs as well as their flesh.
- Arctic hares’ eyelashes are black, protecting their eyes from strong light, caused by the strong reflection of the snow in the Arctic.
- The Arctic hare’s eyes allow it to view 360 degrees without having to rotate its head.
- Their comparatively small ears are an outstanding example of environmental adaptation, as evidenced by the fact that smaller ears waste less heat.
- Arctic hares can be as fast as 45 miles per hour.
- The color of the fur changes with the seasons, but the fur on the stomach and breast is always gray. Their coat in winter turns white, thicker, and softer to the touch, with black bunches on the margins of their ears. Molting occurs during the summer season when the fur becomes brownish-grey to gray-blue.
- Scientists think that the color shift is caused by photoperiod, which is simply the quantity of sunshine received during the day. The animal’s skin may have changed color as a result of exposure to sunshine.
- Arctic hares are polygynous. This means that during mating season, a male mates with more than one female.
- Mating occurs in the spring, generally from April to May, and pregnancy lasts around 50 days. Females give birth to 2-8 children in May-June.
- Each mating couple has its territory. Young children are usually able to care for themselves within 2-3 weeks after birth. They remain with their mother until the age of 8-9 weeks. Sexual maturity occurs at the age of 315 days.
- They live in the woodland and heathlands. The majority of their habitat is tundra with little tree cover. They frequently use rocky outcrops and slopes, where they can find cover in cracks. Arctic hares may seek refuge in natural caves or construct a little home in the snow.
- While the species is effectively camouflaged in the winter, they are confident and approachable. During the summer, when they are more visible, they will run if approached.
- They can withstand an Arctic winter without hibernating thanks to their thick fur coat.
- Birds of prey such as the gyrfalcon, peregrine falcon, and snowy owl are natural predators of the Arctic hare. Threatening mammals include the arctic fox, polar bear, wolves, and ermines.
- South of their range, populations are suffering habitat loss. Climate change will potentially represent a future hazard to this species.
- Arctic hares have a short tail approximately 1.75-4in in length extending from the body.
- Their body length is 17-26in and they weigh 6.5-15lbs. Females are generally significantly bigger than males.
- This species resembles the related snowshoe hare in appearance, and the two are often mistaken.
- The female is known as a doe, the male as a buck, and the newborn hare as a leveret.
- The Arctic wolf is the Arctic hare’s most frequent predator. Even baby wolves in their first autumn may take adult hares.
- Smaller Arctic foxes and ermines frequently feast on young hares.
- Gyrfalcons transport hares to their nests by chopping them in half first.
- Hare bones and feet are used in the construction of gyrfalcon nests on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut.
- Baby hares are often hunted by Snowy Owls.
- They communicate with each other by head, ear, and boxing motions.
- They show affection to their partners by licking or scratching them. To establish their mate choice and to intimidate rival males, the males will hold their paws on the doe’s back.
- The fur of Arctic Hares is used by the Eskimos to make gloves.
- The Arctic hare meat is known to be light and delicious. Their ear cartilage is considered a rare delicacy.
- The milk produced by female animals’ milk glands can be used to treat nausea.
- The tips of their ears are black, which is a distinguishing feature of this species.
- The black fur on the ear tips might be used to keep the hypersensitive ear tips warm when the sun shines.
- Arctic hare’s body fat makes up 20% of its body.
- The Arctic hare has a keen sense of smell, which aids it in locating food buried beneath the ice and snow.
- During the winter, the Arctic hare’s black eyelashes shield its eyes from the destructive effects of solar glare.
- Arctic hares, like many cold-climate animals, have proportionally shorter limbs, ears, and a stockier body as compared to their warmer-climate counterparts. They have a smaller surface area from which their volume can lose heat.
- Their paws are supported with extra fur which helps them to balance weight while moving around on the soft snow.
- Fur also helps their grip on slick surfaces.
- The claws on the Arctic hare’s hind legs are very long which it uses to effectively dig through dense snow using its claws.
- Female Arctic hares are larger than males.
- The incisors, front teeth, of the Arctic Hare never cease growing during its life.
- Lepus arcticus arctic, Lepus arcticus bangsii, Lepus arcticus groenlandicus, and Lepus arcticus monstrabilis are the four subspecies of Arctic hares.
- Hares give birth to leverets with fur and their eyes open.
- Arctic hares are the largest hares.
- Arctic hares don’t move forward with short hops as bunnies do. Instead, they use their strong hind legs to propel, just like kangaroos.
- They have substantially shorter ears than desert hares. Hares with shorter ears may warm themselves more efficiently since their hearts don’t have to circulate blood as far from the center of their bodies.
- When arctic hares see predators approaching, they employ their white camouflage as their first form of defense. They freeze and wait to be detected before attempting to flee to safety.
- If a hungry predator attacks the Arctic hare flock, the hares disperse in all directions, confusing the predator.
- During the mating season, male Arctic hares box and scratch each other to impress females.
Arctic hares are agile and well-adapted animals. They have perfect anatomical features as well as habits to survive in the harsh weather conditions of the arctic regions. Even though they have been actively hunted, they haven’t faced the danger of extinction until now.