Snowshoe Hare Winter Adaptations


 Snowshoe Hare Winter Adaptations

by student apprentice Bailey Lincoln

Along my adventurous walk through the woods of Northern Maine I saw many shapes and sizes of tracks that made patterns throughout the snow. All together there were about three different types of tracks. The tracks that I found to be the most interesting were the last pair.

At first I thought they were dog tracks because of how big the paw was and we also had a dog along for the walk so I figured maybe he had stepped over along this way.  When I stopped and thought a little harder, I realized that it wasn’t the dog because these tracks were placed lightly on top of the snow where as the dog had sunk down into the snow and unlike whatever this animal was, the dog wasn’t light nor would it have come across the stream without breaking the ice.

Realizing these tracks belonged to something else, I instantly became very interested and right away I wanted to know what animal these huge tracks belonged too. Since I did not know what it was, I started asking myself many questions like; how big could this animal be, is it a friendly animal, and why are the tracks on top of the snow instead of sunk in? These were some of the many questions I was asking myself before I got home to figure out exactly what it was.

After the long walk through the woods I was eager to go back to the house to find out who the tracks belonged too.  I would have never thought that it was a Snowshoe-Hare Lepus americanus. I thought that the tracks belonged to something bigger, either part of the dog or cat family because of how big the paws were.  After soon learning that it was a Snowshoe Hare, I now wanted to know more about it. It sparked an interest because I didn’t know very much about it, except that it was a Hare.  There was a lot that I did learn, one thing that I found interesting was the adaptations that the Snowshoe Hare has made to help it survive the changes of the seasons and surviving predators in its habitat.

A Snowshoe Hare will molt its fur (depending on the season) from either dirt brown to help blend in with woods, or to snow white to help blend in with the snow.  This can be a dangerous time in their life because they may not blend in with what is around them. Only the tips of fur change color which takes about 70-90 days to complete the molt. The benefit of their fur matching their surroundings is that they use this type of camouflage when they are feeling threatened by an animal that could possibly be a predator.  They stay motionless to help them blend in until the predator is gone. Leverets (Baby Hares) use this the most since their hind legs are not yet strong enough to escape by out running their predators.

Snowshoe Hares, like most other rabbits, are known for their strong hind legs.  They use their hind legs to quickly get away from predators and if needed too, they can use them for self defense.  The Snowshoe Hare has a humped-back spine that helps them to have more mobility to use their hind legs in these ways.


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Tracks and sign of Snowshoe Hare are most commonly found where an individual animal has been feeding on woody browse.  They bite off the tips of twigs at a clean angle with their front incisor teeth as if someone had used hand clippers.  Snowshoe Hare are often thought to be related to rodents but instead are in the order of Lagomorph.  They have a set of peg-like incisors directly behind the first set which is separated by a flap of skin.  These second teeth work with the molars to grind the woody material for easier digestion.

Another adaptation of Lagomorphs is the digestive process.  Like ruminants such as deer, hare and rabbits have a fermentation stage within digestive tract.  But instead of regurgitating their food to chew, Snowshoe Hares produce a jelly-like pellet rich in nutrients that is expelled like scat.  These pellets are never found with the more woody scat because they immediately eat them to reuse the fermented bacteria.




  1. Very informative…….nicely written.