Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Lagomorpha
Family:    Leporidae
Size:    Length 21 to 28 in. (53 to 70 cm)
Weight: 6 to 12 pounds (2.6 to 5.4 kg)
Diet: Moss, buds, berries, leaves, bark, sedges, willow twigs and roots
Distribution: Northern Canada, Greenland and Arctic islands

2 to 8, once or twice per year 

Animal Predators:  Wolves, arctic foxes, ermine, snowy owls and gyrfalcons
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Group of hares: Down   Male: Buck   Female: Doe   Young: Leveret
Lifespan: Not known (average is believed to be up to a year in the wild)



       Arctic hares can reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour (64 kph).

       The Arctic hare is featured on a 33-cent U.S. stamp.

       Arctic hares are the largest North American hare.


Arctic hares have shorter ears than hares living in warm climates, an advantage for heat conservation. Because ears allow heat to escape, the short ears of Arctic hares minimize heat loss and help them withstand very cold temperatures. During the winter, the fur of Arctic hares turns all white, except for the tip of the ears, which remain black. The white fur helps the hares to blend in against the snowy background and elude predators. Arctic hares living in the far north stay white all year round, while in the summer, those living in the southern part of the range change to a soft brown-grey or a blue grey, which also serves as camouflage when the snow disappears. 



Arctic hares can be found throughout northern Canada, on Arctic islands and in Greenland. A similar species known as the mountain hare (Lepus timidus) can be found throughout northern Europe and Asia, while the tundra hare (Lepus othus) is found in Alaska. Although they have strong claws for digging, unlike rabbits, Arctic hares do not live in burrows. 


Feeding Habits

Arctic hares eat all kinds of vegetation, including moss, buds, berries, leaves, bark, sedges, willow twigs and roots.



Mating season takes place in mid-spring. Males may fight over females, boxing with their front. Young hares, known as leverets, are born anytime from late May to July. Females make a grass-lined nest on the ground, hidden within a bush or rocks. They may further line it with their fur before giving birth to the leverets, who are born fully furred with their eyes open. Mothers do not leave their young at all for the first few days after they are born. After that, when the mothers do leave to feed, the leverets lie motionless in the nest to avoid being discovered by predatorsóbecause young hares have dark gray fur, they resemble rocks when not moving. By the time they are two to three weeks old, they begin to explore outside of the nest, and they are weaned at eight or nine weeks. The youngsters reach adult size by fall, and are ready to begin breeding when they are a year old. 



Arctic hares can be found either alone or in groups of 10 to 300 hares. While feeding, some of the hares act as lookouts while the others devote their attention to eating. They also huddle together during the coldest times of the year, in a sheltered area, under a bush or within a pile of rocks. They can run both by hopping on their hind legs or by using both their front and hind legs. Arctic hares can also swim short distances if necessary.



Arctic hares are not of conservation concern.



Forsyth, A. 1985. Mammals of the Canadian Wild. Camden House. Camden East, ON

Whitaker, J.O. 1980. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY

Arctic Hare Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US