Mad as a March hare

The Snowshoe Hare is found right across Canada, from coast to coast. It is a true hare, and not a rabbit, even though we often call it the Snowshoe Rabbit (it used to be called the Varying Hare).
This hare is one of the most important links in the whole ecology of Canada. It is a staple diet for a whole host of predators–foxes, wolves, lynx, hawks, owls, and fisher to name a few.
To counteract all of his enemies, he has some protection of his own. For one, his hearing is marvelous–those big ears do serve a useful purpose.
He also is a fast runner, having been clocked at more than 30 miles per hour. And he can make some prodigious leaps if he has to–10 feet or so at a single bound.
Those big feet also help him–to run on top of even fluffy snow while his long-legged enemies flounder.
Snowshoe Hares have some very peculiar habits. For one thing, they “dance” in the moonlight. A number will come together and go into a communal spasm of jumping, thumping the ground, and bouncing over one another.
In the spring, mating dances are even more frantic. The males jump and bounce several feet in the air, stand on their front feet, and so on–all to put on a good show for the little lady.
This kind of mating dance, among English hares, gave rise to the expression “mad as a March hare.”
Young hares are called leverets, and are born fully furred and with their eyes open. They are able to move about on their own in a few hours. This is altogether different from the true rabbits.
Hares are vegetarians. In the summer, they eat almost anything green. In winter, they depend largely on bark and the twigs of young trees.
A hare can reach up to about two feet so in winters with a fair snowfall, they may be able to clear the underbrush up to five feet or more.
The Snowshoe Hare has a very pronounced cycle of about 10 or 11 years. The population builds up to a very large peak, and then suddenly crashes to nearly nothing.
Some examples from the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1924, fewer than 1,000 pelts were sold but in 1942, about three cycles later, more than nine million went on the market.
A combination of overpopulation, with its associated overbrowsing, starvation, and the easy spread of disease, is thought to be the cause of this fairly regular fluctuation.
The Varying Hare changes colour almost completely from season to season. In the summer, he is just about completely dark brown. In the winter, almost totally white, except for the tips of his ears, which stay black.
They certainly are game animals but whether you want one for food or not depends on where you live. In the east, especially in Newfoundland, they are often snared or shot, and sold in the markets for food.
Out west, however, you would have a tough time even giving one away.
About those snowshoes. The hare’s hind feet are oversized–maybe 5.5 to six inches. And they have a dense growth of bristles on the outside of the feet, and between the toes.
This does give him a wonderful snowshoe effect.
Hares usually are active at night, and stay quiet during the day. Protective colouration, both winter and summer, and staying perfectly still make them almost invisible. Predators find them by smell.
A very northern mammal, the Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus) is with us in the evergreen woods almost all the time.

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