Wisconsin Native Rabbits and Hares

Rabbit mom and babies

Wisconsin's rabbits and hares are known for the floppy ears, bushy tails and hopping ability. But there's more to them than their fluffy fur and bouncy gait. Rabbits and hares are versatile mammals that have colonized a wide range of habitats. They serve as prey for many specials and, as such, play an important role in the food webs that they occupy.

Wisconsin Rabbits and Hares

Scientific Name Common Name
Lepus americanus Snowshoe Hare
Lepus townsendii White-tailed Jackrabbit
​Sylvilagus floridanus Eastern Cottontail

  Prey Species

Lagomorphs serve as prey for a wide variety of predator species. They are hunted carnivores (such as bobcats, mountain lions, foxes, coyotes) and predatory birds (such as eagles, hawks, and owls). They are also hunted by humans for sport.

  Adaptations to Elude Predators

Rabbits and hares have large eyes that are positioned on either side of their head, giving them a field of vision that encircles them completely. This gives lagomorphs a better chance of spotting approaching predators since they have no blind spots. They have long back legs that enables them to run quickly and claws and fur-covered feet which provides them good traction). These adaptations give rabbits and hares a better chance of escaping predators that get too close for comfort.

  Diet

Rabbits and hares eat plants of various forms including grasses, fruits, seeds, herbs, buds, leaves and even bits of bark they strip off of deciduous and coniferous trees. They are also notorious for eating cultivated plants such as grains, cabbage, clover, and carrots. Since the plant foods they eat are nutrient-poor and difficult to digest, lagomorphs eat their droppings, thus causing the food material to pass through their digestive tract twice to maximize the number of nutrients they are able to extract.

  High Reproduction Rate

Reproductive rates for lagomorphs are generally quite high. This offsets the high mortality rates they often face due to harsh environments, disease, and intense predation.

Snowshoe Hare, Lepus americanus

Snowshoe Hare, Lepus americanus
Physical Characteristics

The snowshoe hare has an average weight of 3-5 pounds with a total length of 15-20 inches with the female being slightly larger than the male. The color of the snowshoe hare is dependent upon the presence or absence of snow. During later spring, summer, and early fall, the hare is a brownish gray color while the remaining part of the year it is white to blend in with the snow. During this time the hare is all white except for the posterior surface of the ear which is tipped black.

Reproduction

The timing of hare reproduction is greatly affected by daylight length and ambient temperature. Most of the breeding begins in March and continues into July and it is only during this period that the snowshoe is social. Gestation usually lasts for approximately 36 days with the first young are usually born in May. Snowshoe hares typically have two to four pups per litter and multiple litters in a year.

Behavior

The habitats of most snowshoe hares include a heavily forested area with a dense understory and are usually coniferous and void of humans. The areas they inhabit are often large undivided woods since the home range is approximately 25 square miles for males and 19 for females. The snowshoe is largely crepuscular and nocturnal and during these times they are generally feeding. Their summer food often consists of grasses, clovers, dandelions, aster, strawberry, ferns, and leaves of aspen, willow, and birch. Their winter food is primarily composed of bark, twigs, and buds of maples, willows, poplars, and hazelnuts and also needles of conifers.

White-tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus townsendii

White-tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus townsendii
Physical Characteristics

The White-tailed Jackrabbit is a relatively large hare with a leaner, lankier look than other hares and rabbits. The snowshoe hare has an average weight of 6-7 pounds with a total length of 19 inches with the female being slightly larger than the male. The pelage changes seasonally — pelage ranges from dark brown to grayish-brown on the upper parts, while the under parts are a white or pale gray. The pelage is thin and coarse with long guard hairs used for warmth. White-tailed jackrabbits have long antenna-like ears that are colored gray on the anterior half of the outside, white on the opposing half, and a dark black patch extending to the tip. The tail, which gives the hare its common name, it white all year round with a dusky stripe on the dorsal side.

Reproduction

Breeding season for the white-tailed jackrabbit begins in February. Courtship between males and females is brief — it starts with small groups of males chasing females in the evening hours and consists of dashes, jumps, and circling activities that end in a brief copulation. Most litters are born anywhere from April until early July after a gestation period ranging from 30 to 43 days. Litter size ranges from 1 to 11 young while 4 or 5 pups is the most common.

Behavior

White-tailed jackrabbits are nocturnal and partly crepuscular, feeding from sunset to sunrise. Its activity patterns are known to vary seasonally with changes in day length. In the summer it feeds on various green vegetation and flowers such as clover, alfalfa, dandelions, or cultivated grains. They travel and forage along well-worn trails and obtain much of their water from their food. In the winter it resorts to shrubs dried grasses, or the twigs and bark of berry and fruit trees in order to survive. Like most other rabbits and hares the white-tailed jackrabbit engages in coprophagy, which is the re-ingestion of soft fecal pellets.

Eastern Cottentail, Sylvilagus floridanus

Eastern Cottentail, Sylvilagus floridanus
Physical Characteristics

The adult eastern cottontail is a mid-sized rabbit weighing approximately 2-4 pounds with a total length of 16-17 inches. Five toes are present on the forefeet, and four on the hind feet, which collectively measure anywhere from 3-4 inches. The dorsal portion of the body varies in color from grays to browns with the tips of each hair being white or silver giving the pelage a frosty look. A distinct rust-colored patch can be seen on the nape of the neck and fronts of the forearms. The ventral portions are browner on the proximal end moving to whitish gray-sandy white toward the distal end. The short, fluffy tail is 1-1¾ inches in length is brownish above and white below. The cottontail undergoes two molts per year.

Reproduction

Breeding season for the white-tailed jackrabbit begins in February. Courtship between males and females is brief — it starts with small groups of males chasing females in the evening hours and consists of dashes, jumps, and circling activities that end in a brief copulation. Most litters are born anywhere from April until early July after a gestation period ranging from 30 to 43 days. Litter size ranges from 1 to 11 young while 4 or 5 pups is the most common.

Behavior

White-tailed jackrabbits are nocturnal and partly crepuscular, feeding from sunset to sunrise. Its activity patterns are known to vary seasonally with changes in day length. In the summer it feeds on various green vegetation and flowers such as clover, alfalfa, dandelions, or cultivated grains. They travel and forage along well-worn trails and obtain much of their water from their food. In the winter it resorts to shrubs dried grasses, or the twigs and bark of berry and fruit trees in order to survive. Like most other rabbits and hares the white-tailed jackrabbit engages in coprophagy, which is the re-ingestion of soft fecal pellets.

Further Reading:

 Beavers — Nature's Hydrologist, Part 2
 Garter Snakes — The Gardener's Friend
 Wisconsin Native Salamanders
 Native Rabbits, Facts and Photos
 5 Native Squirrel Species

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