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Text: Ukaliq the Arctic Hare.
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Text: About the Arctic Hare. Photo: An Arctic hare. Text: Heritage, History and Art. Photo: A carving in walrus ivory of an Arctic hare. Text: Studying the Arctic Hare. Photo: David Gray looking through a spotting scope. Text: Games and Activities. Photo: An Arctic hare in mid-hop.
Texts: "About the Arctic Hare", and "Ukaliq" in Inuktitut syllabics. Photos: An Arctic hare and a maple leaf.




Individual Behaviour




Social Behaviour




Breeding Behaviour




Life Cycle


Eat and Be Eaten


Naming & Classifying
Text: Field Notes - David Gray. Photo of David Gray.

Midnight Madness

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).

Text: Historical Quote.

Mating Madness

When Sverdrup 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".

- Sverdrup 1904



Breeding Behaviour

Male Display | Investigative | Aggressive | Sexual

Sexual Behaviour

Midnight Madness

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 them.

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'.

Image 1) A group of Arctic hares.

Enlarge image.A wild chase in a group of Arctic hares during 'midnight madness'.

Image 2) A group of Arctic hares.

Enlarge image.In this scene of 'midnight madness', a pair is copulating (centre), while two males (the hare at left with the orange stain and the hare third from the right) are investigating females.

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 Pass.

Image 3) Detail of a diagram of Arctic hare breeding behaviour. Enlarge image.The courtship and breeding behaviour of Arctic hares follows a general pattern of interactions between males and females. Enlarge the image to learn more.

Image 4) Arctic hares fighting.

Hares fighting and copulating.

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Last update: 2015-09-01
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Image credits: 1) David R. Gray. 2) David R. Gray. 3) David R. Gray. 4) David R. Gray.