The Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus), or polar rabbit, is a species of hare.
There are four subspecies of the Arctic hare:
• Lepus arcticus arcticus
• Lepus arcticus banksii
• Lepus arcticus groenlandicus
• Lepus arcticus monstrabili
The Arctic hare may be found at elevations between 0 (sea level) and 900 meters (2,950 feet).
The Arctic hare is well adapted to living in cold environments.
The Arctic hare survives with shortened ears and limbs, a small nose, body fat that makes up 20% of its body, and a thick coat of fur.
The Arctic hare has long claws, especially on its hind legs. It uses its claws to dig in packed snow.
It usually digs holes in the ground or under snow to keep warm and sleep.
The thick white fur provides both warmth and camouflage against the Arctic hare’s snowy surroundings. The black fur on the ear tips may be a way of keeping the sensitive ear tips warmer when the sun is shining.
After the spring moult, the fur of southern populations is replaced with a shorter grey-brown fur. More northerly populations also moult into shorter fur, but retain the white colouration year-round.
The Arctic hare’s eyes, which can see almost 360 degrees around without its having to move its head, have round pupils and reddish-brown irises.
The Arctic hare has black eyelashes which protect its eyes from damaging effects of sun glare during the winter.
The Arctic hare has an excellent sense of smell that helps it find food buried under the ice and snow.
Arctic hares do not hibernate and are active all year round.
The Arctic hare is one of the world’s largest hares.
On average, this species measures from 43 to 70 cm (17 to 28 in) long, not counting a tail length of 4.5 to 10 cm (1.8 to 3.9 in). The body mass of this species is typically between 2.5 and 5.5 kg (6 and 12 lb), though large individuals can weigh up to 7 kg (15 lb).
The female Arctic hare is larger than the male.
The lifespan of the Arctic hare is from 3 to 5 years in the wild. They do not survive well in captivity, living only a year and a half at most.
Arctic Hares are often solitary animals, but they will also form groups of hundreds or even thousands of hares at times. Unlike many mammals, Arctic hare groups disperse rather than form during mating season.
The Arctic hare is a herbivore, and specifically a folivore (leaf-eating animal).
Food can be scarce in the Arctic, but the hares survive by eating woody plants, mosses, and lichens which they may dig through the snow to find in winter. In other seasons they eat buds, berries, leaves, roots, and bark.
They eat snow to get water.
The Arctic Hare’s incisors (front teeth) never stop growing throughout its life.
The Arctic hare can run up to 60 kilometers per hour (37 mph).
Arctic hares avoid predators by being very fast runners and fairly good swimmers. They can hop away from danger while standing on their hind legs. The resulting tracks might confuse predators.
Arctic hares communicate with each other via snapping, boxing, scratching, and by moving their ears. Male and female arctic hares show affection by licking or scratching.
Mating season for arctic hares is in the spring, usually during April and May. Mating pairs establish territories of their own. Males will sometimes mate with more than one female in a season.
After a gestation period of around 50 days, the young hares, called leverets, are born in the late spring or early summer. There are usually 2 to 8 leverets in the litter, with the average being about 5 or 6.
Leverets become mostly independent after 2 to 3 weeks, but remain close to their mother until weaning occurs at 8 or 9 weeks after birth.
Arctic hares are hunted for their meat and pelts by those who live in their range, but they are not considered endangered.
Traditionally, the arctic hare has been important to Native Americans. These fairly plentiful animals are hunted as a food resource and for their fur, which is used to make clothing.