Snowshoe Hares

Common residents of boreal and mountain forests, snowshoe hares are found across the northern tier of North America, from Canada and Alaska to New England, the northern Great Lakes region and the Pacific Northwest; they also inhabit forests of the Appalachian mountains, south to Virginia, and the subalpine zone of the Rocky Mountains, down to northern New Mexico.

Possessing a rich brown coat in summer, these hares molt to white during the snowy months, prompting their other name: varying hare; the snowshoe title reflects their large hind feet which are furred on the soles, improving mobility in deep snow and increasing traction on icy surfaces. Snowshoes feed on a wide variety of plant greenery from spring to early fall, switching to a diet of twigs, buds and conifer needles in winter; they also gnaw on carrion throughout the colder months, including the dead of their own species. After spending the day in a hidden "form" or abandoned burrow, snowshoe hares become active at dusk and are primarily nocturnal; as in other prey species, this adaptation helps to protect them from predators, which include mountain lions, lynx, bobcats, coyotes, fox, weasels, fishers, owls, gyrfalcons and golden eagles.

Mating begins in late winter and females produce up to four litters from February through late summer. This high productivity leads to a population boom every decade, followed by a significant drop-off in their numbers; of the many species that prey on snowshoe hares, it is the lynx that is especially reliant on this food source and their population rises and falls in response to the snowshoe cycle.