The Snowshoe Hare, or Lepus Americanus is a ubiquitous wildlife symbol of the northern United States and Canada. This animal has the unique ability to change its look from a thin, brown summer coat to a thick white fur coat for cold winter months.
In the summer, the Snowshoe Hare's reddish brown coat enables it to blend perfectly into the cover of the wilderness floor. In the winter, the thick white coat provides protection from the snowy elements as well as camoflauge from a variety of predators including bobcat, cougar, eagles, coyotes and the Great Horned Owl. The ""changing of the coat", which occurs via natural hair shedding and replacement, takes about 8-10 weeks to complete and happens in the Spring and Fall.
The Snowshoe Hare is a solitary animal who basically hides in the brush during the day and begin actively feeding in the evening. Being a strict vegetarian, its diet includes various tree bark, grasses, twigs, clover, dandelions, strawberry, blackberry, fireweed and branch buds. As anyone who has experienced a bite from one will tell you, the Snowshoe Hare is equipped with extremely strong teeth. The teeth act as a tool to gnaw off bark from Aspens, Willow and Birch trees. Often times the hare will use its huge hind feet to "stand up" and reach higher tree branches for feeding.
The hare prefers areas of boreal protection including the coniferous forest and dense scrub brush of the Northern Rockies and Canada. Unlike the rabbit, the hare will rarely burrow. It does, however, utilize the abandoned burrows of other animals, allowing them to do the heavy lifting. Rabbits do burrow and use their burrows to hide from predators. The hare, on the other hand, evades danger by running and has developed gigantic hind feet used to propel itself from predators. Well groomed mini trails or "runways" are frequently used by Snowshoe Hares as highways to navigate the forest floor. These trails are also used by skunks, porcupines and other small mammals.
Snowshow Hares are generally between 3-4 pounds and can measure from 1-2 feet long including their short tail. If you are ever unsure if the animal is a snowshoe hare or a rabbit, just look at the feet. If they are unmistakably large, you're looking at a snowshoe hare. The feet are also the first part of the hare's body to change color so it is not uncommon to see a brown snowshoe hare with big white feet. The Snowshoe Hare also has very distinguishable large ears used to detect predators, as well as dissipate heat and regulate body temperature in the summer.
Depending on geographic location, Snowshoe Hares can have 3-4 litters a year producing 2-5 babies per litter. The gestation period for these hares is about 35 days long. Unlike rabbits who are born hairless and blind, the Snowshoe Hare babies are born with full fur coats, are able to see right away and can hop about within minutes of birth. In short, the Snowshoe Hare plays a critical role in the balance of the boreal ecosystem. It acts as key prey for larger mammals and adds a wonderful element of biological diversity to its home range.