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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Snowshoe hares DO live in NY!


I find it most appropriate to write about the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) tracks that I found. The first day of mammals class I didn’t even know they lived in NY, and a week later I had the privilege of finding and correctly identifying the tracks. I was on a weekend trip to the Adirondacks with The Wildlife Society Club, and we were taking a hike through the woods. The place I found these tracks was deep in a mixed deciduous/coniferous forest in the Adirondacks. There wasn’t very much understory brush present, but there was also 1+ feet of snow on the ground. There were winter tracks all around; deer, song birds, fox, marten, and snowshoe hare. At first we all thought they were eastern cottontail, because that’s what we’re all familiar with, but soon by looking at a track book were able to tell the difference.
The snowshoe hare has large furry feet that essentially act as snowshoes, as his name states. The eastern cottontail is considerably smaller (actual size of track, as well as stride/straddle), and lacks that fuzzy ring of fur around each foot which blurs the track in a way.  This hare is also referred to as the varying hare because of the coat color changes it goes through.  In warmer months this hare is brown, and in the colder months turns white. This acts as a camouflage.
(Newcomb NY 3/27)

The reason I didn’t get to see the hare, and just his tracks, is because he is mostly nocturnal. They are also, by nature, very timid and secretive.
As our Stokes book states, the snowshoe hare’s main defense is to sit very still and quiet in what is referred to as a ‘form’. This is a small depression the shape of a sitting rabbit that may be found under a log or brush, that allows the animal some shelter, but also allows him a quick getaway if an intruder comes too close. We may have walked right past one tucked away, and never were the wiser. What really amazes me is that once disturbed, this small 3 lb. animal can get up to speeds up 30 mph and leap 12 feet at a time!

What I want to know is....approximately what time of year does the snowshoe hare start to change coat color? In Stokes it states that these changes start to occur due to length in day and temperature changes. But this year for example is still quite cold for the spring, and in the ADKs when I found the tracks there was still quite a bit of snow. Does this mean there are still white hares hopping around even though it’s well into April?

(The Wild Center 3/26)

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