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Feature Creature - Brown hare

Credits: Damian Waters (drumimages.co.uk)

Here's a mammal that is well loved all over - the BROWN HARE. As spring begins to gear up, many animals start to think about bringing up families. One of the first to get going is the Mad March Hare. You might see them boxing in open fields as they begin to pair up.

Fantastic facts:

 

*How long they live: 4 years in the wild     *Super-powers: Speed - up to 35 miles per hour

 

*Enemies: Fox, buzzard, stoat and people     *Favourite foods: Grass and their own poo!

 

*Latin name: Lepus europeaus (hare of Europe)   *Number of babies: Up to 4 'leverets'

 

What are these speedy beasts and what can they do? Brown hares are:

 

A bit mad

 

Brown hares are famous for their boxing matches which draw a lot of attention to them. Hares face each other in the middle of open fields, sometimes with an audience gathered round, and spar with each other, rearing up on their large hind legs and scrabbling at each other with their paws.

 

It was once thought that these strange dances were fights between males, perhaps to impress nearby ladies or warn off rivals. Instead, it seems it's actually female hares (jills) that are doing the boxing, using their paws to fend off over-enthusiastic males (jacks).

 

Not rodents 

 

Like rabbits, hares belong to a special family of animals called (long word warning) lagamorphs. Rodents, which include animals like mice, voles, rats and beavers, have two sharp front teeth which they use to gnaw their food. These are the long, yellowy teeth that grow continually and are worn down as the animal eats. Hares and rabbits have four of these teeth to help them chew vast quantities of grass.

 

Unlike rabbits, hares to not dig burrows to live in. Instead, they scrape shallow bowls into the ground called 'forms' that they can hunker down in for shelter. Instead of running to a hole when danger is nearby, they crouch down and remain very still, making a run for it if they need to.  

 

Close relatives

 

In Northern Ireland, brown hares are not the rightful inhabitats of the land. They were only introduced by people in the 1800's. A close cousin of the browns - the Irish hare (which has slightly shorter ears) - has survived there since the last ice age and is thought to be one of Northern Irelands oldest mammal species.  Much like the brown hare in other parts of the UK, the Irish hare is also in decline and in need of conservation and protection. 

 

 

 

 

Another type of hare found in the UK is the mountain hare. These hardy animals are found in the uplands of Scotland. To match the winter snowfall and stay hidden from predators, the fur of mountain hare turns white and thick as the days become shorter and the weather gets colder. Clever!

 

 

Click these links to see the species profile pages of brown hare, Irish hare and mountain hare

 

 

 

Have a look at boxing hares racing about in this BBC video. Love is in the air!