May 1, 1986 -- "Can't tell
who is doing what to whom? Big jumps in the air,
hind feet obvious, hares grouping together, one
jumped into the air, 5 chasing, chasing everywhere,
just a milling mass of hares… two hares circling
around trying to get downwind of each other… 5
minutes ago Blue Bun arrived, running around checking
females ever since, moving around downwind, checking
around, batted back several times… Blue Bun
checking females, several times 2 males circle,
checking same female… whole crowd going absolutely
nuts, last 20 minutes absolute pandemonium with
hares running everywhere… several came up
to me including Blue Bun, then chased up into rocks". May 1, 1986; -15°C (5°F).
discovered and named Hare
Fiord on Ellesmere Island
in late April, 1902, the
area was teeming with hares.
Although he gives no details,
he describes them as running
about as if they had taken
leave of their senses. It
being in the midst of the
breeding season, Sverdrup
attributed the strange goings-on
to the hares having "lost
their heads from love".
Display | Investigative | Aggressive | Sexual
The 'madness' of European hares (Lepus
europaeus) is a well
known cliché that refers to certain behaviour during
spring mating. It was not too surprising, then, to discover
that the Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) also shows signs of
what might be called 'madness' at mating time.
'Madness' describes the chaos of attempted and successful
matings in a large group of hares. There is a lot of activity,
with males investigating, following, chasing and checking,
and females either rebuffing (and fighting) or accepting
In the case of the European hare, breeding occurs in March,
so biologists talk of 'March Madness' (hence the mad March
hare of Alice-in-Wonderland fame). Spring arrives later in
the Canadian Arctic, however, so, because most courtship
activity at Sverdrup Pass on Ellesmere Island was observed
by David Gray in the late evening and very early morning,
he dubbed it 'Midnight Madness'.
Mating, or Copulation
Most copulations observed by David Gray were preceded by
vigorous bouts of persistent sexual chasing of single females
by several males or by male-female fighting within a group.
Some attempted copulations and completed copulations were
preceded by 'under-bunting', in which the male rooted under
the female, lifting her up with his head.
Copulation was fast, lasting only a few seconds, with the
male clasping the female with his forelegs, and the female
lifting her ears up off her back. As in all hares, copulation
induces the female to ovulate.
After these copulations the individuals remained together
for several hours, then separated. There was no indication
of either short- or long-term pair formation at Sverdrup
courtship and breeding behaviour of Arctic hares follows
a general pattern of interactions between males and females.
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