Friday, January 16, 2009

They Can Run and They Can Hide

I haven't seen this snowshoe hare, but I've been wondering about these beautiful animals ever since we saw their tracks while snowshoeing at the Joe English Preservation Area in Amherst.

I've sinced learned that while snowshoe hares have plenty of predators (including fox, bobcat, fisher, weasel, owls, and red-tailed hawks, to name a few) -- the very fact that they survive at all is partly due to their remarkable "natural engineering," and of course, their ability to "reproduce like rabbits."

Snowshoe hares are lean, with very large hind feet -- all the better for them to move quickly on top of the snow. But if their hind feet were any bigger, according to one source, they would sink in the snow, making them easy prey.

So it's good that their feet have stopped growing! Even better is that their fur changes from brown to white in the winter, a process that takes about a month. But if they turn white too soon, they stand out against our brown, November landscape; and if they stay brown too late, they stand out against the snow. In other words, if the timing of their molt isn't just right, they might as well be wearing hunter's orange!

Some scientists believe that snowshoe hares try to compensate for this molting dilemma by heading for the higher elevations in the fall so their coats will change sooner. Once they're white and we've had snowfall in the lower elevations, they come back down to their preferred habitat near swamps. Amazing, isn't it?

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