Sunday, October 25, 2015

Minnesota Varying Hare

While in Minnesota I saw my first snowshoe hare. We were driving inland from Grand Marais, on the north shore of Lake Superior, to Eagle Mountain, the tallest mountain in Minnesota. We were on a good dirt road and I saw an otter cavorting around in a field off to my right. The field was somewhat clear of vegetation and had a bunch of fallen logs. I stopped the car, got out my camera and wandered into the field. I didn't find the otter, but I did see a snowshoe hare, distinctive because it was in the process of changing from its brown summer coat to its white winter coat. It had white feet and ears. The color change takes about 10 weeks. As seen in this rabbit, the white first appears on the ears and feet and then moves toward the body. 
Minnesota varying hare, a subspecies of the snowshoe hare or varying hare.
The "snowshoe" title comes from its furry feet that give it buoyancy in deep snow, as well as protection from the cold. It is also called the varying hare because of its variations in color from season to season. It is larger than a cottontail and smaller than a jackrabbit, reaching two to four pounds and 15 to 20 inches in length. Their large hind legs enable them to stand upright to feed on branches.  
The white on the feet and ears stands out as it runs in the opposite direction.
During the summer they eat plants, including grass, clover, dandelions, ferns and shoots of raspberry and blackberry. They don't hibernate, so they have to switch to less appetizing fare in the winter, such as twigs, buds, tree bark (aspen, willow, birch, maple, alder) and needles from conifers such as fir, cedar, hemlock, spruce and white pine. They will even eat meat, such as dead rodents and mice. They feed at night, prime time being about 11:00 p.m., at least in Wisconsin
They are only found in northern North America, from Alaska, through the Canadian provinces, and in geographic fingers that protrude into the United States, as low as the Sierra Nevada in California and a small area of northern New Mexico. They are found in portions of central Utah, although I never saw one there, portions of Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon and in portions of the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern U.S. They are also found in the northern half of Minnesota, where we were, a subspecies known as lepus americanus phaeonotus Allen, or the Minnesota varying hare. This particular subspecies is found in Minnesota, large portions of Wisconsin, northern Michigan, and most of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. 

They are a major prey for predators including the lynx, bobcat, fisher, marten, long-tailed weasel, mink, coyote. wolf, mountain lion, great horned owl, and golden eagle, among others. 


  1. You have amazing animal radar. Not only do you notice the little animals, but you know what they are from a long ways away. Impressive.

  2. I have seen a few of those around here with their distinctive feet, mostly in the spring. Cute!