Although many people believe that hares are the same as rabbits, hares are significantly different from rabbits in several different ways. They live above ground, are much larger than rabbits, and have larger ears than rabbits.
Scientific & Common Names
Hares are sometimes mistakenly called rabbits. The jackrabbit of North America is actually a kind of hare. There are about 30 different species of hares across the globe. All hares are of the genus Lepus, and this group includes animals such as the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) and the European hare (Lepus europaeus), along with many others.
The strong hind legs and large feet of the hare are what help it move so quickly when threatened. Hares have long ears and a keen sense of smell, which enables them to detect danger quickly. Hares range from 14 to 28 inches in length and can weigh between 3 and 12 pounds. Hares have bodies covered with thick, soft fur and short tails. Their upper lips are split, concealing a pair of long, front incisors that never stop growing. Hares must keep their teeth ground down by constant gnawing and chewing.
Hares can mate and breed any time of year, but the most common time for mating is in spring. During spring, hares are often seen leaping and running about in wild and crazy mating rituals. This is where the phrase "mad as a March hare" originated. Often, males and females will rise up on their back legs and seem to box with one another. After mating, the female will be pregnant for 42 to 44 days. The female will give birth in a grass-lined depression above the ground. The babies are born with their eyes open and fully covered in fur. In about three weeks, the babies can be weaned. A female hare may give birth to 3 or 4 litters every year.
Hares are among the fastest of the smaller mammals, with the ability to run up to 45 miles per hour. However, unless threatened, the hare is mostly a quiet and docile animal. Most of their time is spent foraging for the seeds, grasses, and vegetables that they love to eat. Hares are solitary animals, and, unlike rabbits, spend all of their time above ground.
All rabbits and hares originated in southern Europe and northern Africa. Hares were introduced to North America, Australia, South America, and Asia, where they adapted to environmental conditions and developed into distinct species of hares.
Hares are found on every continent except for Antarctica. Most species of hare are not endangered, because they are such prolific breeders.