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Text: Ukaliq the Arctic Hare.
Illustration of an Arctic hare paw print.
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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.

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Characteristics

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Individual Behaviour

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Habitat

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Social Behaviour

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Range

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Breeding Behaviour

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Populations

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Life Cycle

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Eat and Be Eaten

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Naming & Classifying

Illustration of an Arctic hare paw print.
Image 1) Collage of photos of newborn Arctic hares and Eastern cottontail rabbits.

Enlarge image.

Hare or Rabbit?

Hares are born in the open, with fur, open eyes, and ready to move. Rabbits are born in a nest, naked, with eyes closed, and helpless. Hares generally have longer hind legs and ears relative to their body-size than rabbits do. Arctic hares and Eastern cottontails are pictured here.

 

Naming and Classifying

What's in a Name? | Classification | Canadian Rabbits and HaresHare Comparison

Classification

Scientists place all plants and animals into a system of classification that is based on their common features. Arctic hares belong to the Class of animals called Mammalia. Like all other mammals, they have fur and females nurse their young.

Within the mammals, hares belong to the Order Lagomorpha, along with rabbits and pikas. Lagomorpha means 'hare-shaped'. Lagomorphs have four teeth as incisors at the front of the upper jaw: two smaller peg-like teeth form a buttress at the base of the two larger incisors, supporting and strengthening them. Worldwide there are more than 40 species of lagomorph, including more than 20 hares, 11 rabbits and six pikas.

Image 2) An American pika.

Enlarge image.An American pika (Ochotona princeps).

Lagomorphs are divided into two Families: hares and rabbits are members of the Family Leporidae, and pikas are in the Family Ochontonidae.

In a further subdivision, hares are grouped in the Genus Lepus (which means 'hare'). Rabbits are placed in the Genus Oryctolagus ('hare-like digger') or Sylvilagus ('hare of the woods').

Species is the final classification. The species name is usually used with the genus name. Doing so identifies the animal specifically, distinct from related species in the same genus. The Arctic hare species is arcticus, so Lepus arcticus is used to refer to the Arctic hare.

Scientists also use subspecies names to distinguish between slightly different forms of a species, which are usually found in different geographical areas. Nine subspecies of Arctic hare are recognized, based on size, skull features and coat colour. The northernmost, High-Arctic subspecies is identified as Lepus arcticus monstrabilis because of its greater size. The western subspecies is named L. a. andersoni in recognition of the Arctic work of biologist R.M. Anderson (formerly of the National Museum of Canada, precursor to the Canadian Museum of Nature).

Canadian Rabbits and Hares

There are two kinds of rabbits and three kinds of hares native to Canada. The eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) lives in southern Ontario and Manitoba. Nuttall's cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii) ranges north into southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. The other Canadian hares are the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus), which is found across the forested areas of Canada north to the treeline, and the white-tailed jack rabbit (Lepus townsendii), which is restricted to the prairies of southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The European hare (Lepus europaeus) is found in southern Ontario since being introduced there.

Image 3) A snowshoe hare in winter.

Enlarge image.The winter fur of the snowshoe hare has a dark under-fur, unlike the all-white fur of the Arctic hare.

 
Image 4) White-tailed jackrabbit in summer.

Enlarge image.White-tailed jackrabbit in summer.


Image 5) A Nutall's cottontail rabbit.

Enlarge image.Nutall's cottontail rabbit.

Comparison: Arctic Hare and Snowshoe Hare

In most respects the Arctic hare resembles its relative the snowshoe hare. The differences are in the adaptations to the demanding Arctic environment.

  • At 4 to 5 kg (9 to 11 lb.), an average adult Arctic hare is approximately three times the weight of an average adult snowshoe hare.
     
  • Arctic hares live beyond or above the treeline. Snowshoe hares live in forested areas.
     
  • Though both species have black ear tips (fur), they are more extensive and noticeable in Arctic hares.
     
  • Arctic hares have only one litter per year. Snowshoe hares have up to three litters per year.
     
  • The size of the snowshoe hare population goes through a regular seven-year cycle (increasing and decreasing). We don't know if the Arctic hare goes through a cycle of population fluctuation.
   

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Last update: 2013-01-29
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Image credits: 1) Con Finlay, Allan G. Austin. 2) David R. Gray. 3) David R. Gray. 4) S.D. MacDonald. 5) S.D. MacDonald.