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.
in a Name? | Classification | Canadian Rabbits and Hares | Hare Comparison
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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