THE ARCTIC HARE
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The arctic hare lives throughout the tundra of Canada from Newfoundland to the Northwest Territories. It is also found on Arctic islands and in Greenland. The Arctic hare lives in both mountainous and lowland areas. It likes places where plants grow quickly during the short summer season. For the winter it prefers sheltered areas where it does not have to dig in deep snow to search for food.
In the winter arctic hares are white with black eartips. In the summer its color depends on where it lives: On the Tundra the animals are blue-gray. In the far north it is almost white. The underfur is a thick gray. Only the tail remains white all year round. The claws on the front feet of the Arctic hare are long. The hares use the strong claws for digging in hard-packed snow. Adult Arctic hares are the biggest hares in North America.
The main food for the Arctic hare is woody plants. It will eat mosses, lichens, buds, berries, leaves, seaweed, bark, willow twigs and roots, and even the meat from hunters' traps . Often trappers will find hares caught in traps. The main food in the winter is the willow. They can smell the willows under the snow and start to dig. If the snow is too crusty they first thump on it with their powerful feet. They gnaw ( chew ) at the icy crust with their sharp teeth.
The young are born in late May, June, or July, depending on where they live. The farther north they are, the later the babies are born. Females may produce a second litter in one season. Litter size is from four to eight babies.
The gray-brown babies (called leverets) are born in a small dent in moss or grass. Dry plants or fur from the female lines the nest. The nest is often hidden behind a rock or bush. The babies are covered with fur and their eyes are wide open.
The mother does not leave her babies for the first 2 to 3 days. By the third day the young are able to lie very still. They almost look like the rocks and grass around them . The young gain 45 to 50 grams per day in their first month and no longer need mother's milk by the time they are a month old. By September they are the size of the adults.
BEHAVIOR / ADAPTATION
Hares will form groups of 100 to 300 animals. While some rest and feed the others act as guards. Hares are able to survive the Arctic winters by huddling together in snow drifts, under bushes or behind rocks. Arctic hares usually follow the same paths every time they look for food.
When alarmed they rise up on their hind legs to look for danger and then bound off very quickly . Hopping up on their hind legs like a kangaroo, they can reach speeds of 64 km. per hour. The hare can swim across narrow streams.
Arctic hare are the food for Snowy Owls, other birds of prey, wolves, foxes, weasels and polar bears. So it must always be alert and ready to hop away if it senses an enemy. Sometimes it runs away on all fours or hops on its hind legs like a kangaroo.
Young hares quickly learn to sit perfectly still and become almost invisible to their enemies. The Arctic hare moves so quickly that wolves and foxes have a hard time keeping up with it.