Snowshoe Hares

snowshoe hare

Photo Credit – NPS, Jacob W. Frank

I’ve lived in Colorado for a long time now and had never seen a snowshoe hare. This summer I saw two. At first glance they look a lot like the cottontails in my yard. Except the snowshoe hares were much stockier, and of course had much larger feet. And though rabbits and hares are cousins, they are quite different species. Snowshoe hares are born with a full fur coat and with their eyes open; leverets (baby hares!) are ready to start hopping around on their own within hours of birth. Baby rabbits, called kits, are born naked, blind, and helpless. Snowshoe hares also tend to be loners, while most rabbits live in underground warrens in groups.

One thing that made think of the snowshoe hares today is the season’s first snowfall. When I saw the snowshoe hares in the summer, their coats were the color of the rocks and sticks. But unlike rabbits, the hares change coats for the season. They are a little like changing leaves in this way! In the summer, the long, sunny days trigger the production of melatonin; that’s what creates their brownish fur and the camouflage for the summer season. But when the days get shorter and there is less sunlight, the production of melatonin is no longer triggered (side note: this transformation takes approximately 70 days). Thus without the color, their fur returns to white. Hopefully they are totally white now to help them stay camouflaged. And of course those huge broad feet will help them move around easily on the snow.