Tips on Tracks: Snowshoe hare

Posted: Friday, January 07, 2011

Name of animal: Snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus).

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Illustration By Richard Carstensen / Discovery Southeast
Illustration By Richard Carstensen / Discovery Southeast

General description of the track: Hares are hoppers. As they move, their front paws land first and their large hind paws land beyond the front. The result resembles a pair of exclamation points. The gait, or distance between the tracks, depends on the speed and size of the hare. They are usually about two feet apart. Upon close inspection, four toes can sometimes be seen on the front and hind paws, though they are difficult to distinguish due to the large amount of insulating fur on the paws.

When, where to look: Hare tracks can be seen on snow (they're so light-footed prints rarely show except on snow) throughout the Juneau area, especially near willow, their favorite local food in winter. Snowy muskegs are another accessible place to look. Without tracks, look for shin-high sign, like nibbled willow, alder and blueberry bushes. Scat is shaped like a hamburger bun and is between 1/4- and 1/2-inch in diameter. The original pellet color is usually green, but it's rarely seen because these pellets are typically reingested, and then pooped out again in a drier, browner form - a process known as "coprophagy."

Lookalikes: A red squirrel's gait and paw placement resemble a hare's, but is smaller.

More about the Snowshoe hare: Hares are not native to the Juneau area. According to a scientific publication by McDonald & Cook , they were introduced here in the early 1900s from populations near Haines. Hare populations fluctuate locally depending on weather, availability of vegetation, and predation from wolves, coyotes, lynx, weasels, owls and red squirrels, to name a few. Large hind paws that help them stay afloat on snow, and white fur in winter and brown in the summer, are remarkable adaptations. Unlike rabbits, hares are not burrowers, but instead rest in depressions in the landscape. They are crepuscular (active during dawn and dusk) to nocturnal, though they've often been seen midday in the spring during mating season.

• This tracks feature appears every other week during winter months and is compiled by members of Discovery Southeast, a local nonprofit offering a variety of programs for local youth aimed at educating and engaging students in their outdoor world. For more information on the organization, go online to discoverysoutheast.org.



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