About Rabbits and Hares

I was out before dawn the other morning and was struck by the amount of tracks that appeared with the rising sun.  The snowshoe hare prints were the ones that especially caught my eye. They went up the trail, under the bushes, around the tree, and back again. The tracks were everywhere.   

Snowshoe hares, or Lepus americanus, are part of the Lepus genus, which is a part of the Leporidae family.  Animals in the Leporidae family include both rabbits and hares. Hares are generally different from rabbits because they are larger, faster, have longer ears, and are less social than rabbits.(1)

Snowshoe Hare -Photo Credit: Nat. Wildlife Foundation
Snowshoe Hare/Winter Coat -Photo Credit: Nat. Wildlife Foundation

The snowshoe hare gets its name because of its wide hind feet that prevent it from sinking in the snow.  It also has fur covering its feet to protect them during the winter. 


Another interesting trait of the snowshoe hare is that it changes its coat with the seasons. During the winter their fur is white. In the summer months the fur turns a brownish color.  The coat transformation takes about ten weeks to complete. However, even in the winter, the snowshoe hare has black ear tips. 

By Lepus_americanus_5459.JPG: Walter Siegmund (talk)derivative work: Wsiegmund - This file was derived from: Lepus americanus 5459.JPG:, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24512769
Snowshoe Hare/Summer Coat- Photo Credit: Walter Siegmund

Hares and rabbits typically move in what is called a bounding gate.  A bounding gate is a hopping motion that can be separated into two parts with the front feet landing together and then the hind feet landing together.   

When you find tracks of a bounding gate animal it looks like the hind feet land in front of the front feet. This can sometimes be disorienting when you are trying to figure out direction of travel. But it actually makes sense if you have ever watched a rabbit move.

The photo below from The Old Naturalist offers a great illustration of this.

Rabbit Tracks in the snow, The Old Naturalist
“F” is the smaller front feet. They hit the ground first. “H” is the larger hind feet jump over the front feet.
Photo by Lawrence Wade. The Old Naturalist

Other animals such as squirrels and mice also use a similar gait.  But their tracks are much smaller.


Poetry of Rabbits

Although I wasn’t able to find any poems that specifically spoke about the snowshoe hare, I was able to locate a few poems about rabbits.  This first one is by Frank Mitalsky and was published in the August 1923 edition of Poetry Magazine.

“Rabbit in the Moonlight” by Frank Mitalsky

Moonlight is sharp until I see
A rabbit sitting quietly.
Then wall and fence and tree and burr
Grow soft and touch the night with fur.

Shadows are dead until I see
The rabbit turn and creep from me.
Then every bar thrown on the ground
Creep off without making a sound. 

Wallace Stevens wrote another rabbit inspired poem titled “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts”. This poem can be found in the October 1937 edition of Poetry Magazine. Here is a couple verses from that poems

“A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts” by Wallace Stevens

The difficulty to think at the end of day,   
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun   
And nothing is left except light on your fur—
(verse 1)
And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light,   
In which everything is meant for you   
And nothing need be explained;
(verse 4)
And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,   
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,   
A self that touches all edges,
(verse 6)

Finally, Paul S Piper wrote a great poem the dogs tracking rabbits in the snow.  This poem, titled “Dog and Snow”,  has some wonderful verses such as:

Dog sees white. Arctic
light, the bright buzz in the brain

And,

looking for snowshoe hares, caribou, cats.
His wild ancestry ignited, Dog plunges
 
his nose into snow up to his eyes. 

You can read the full poem here. You can also find this poem in his book, Dogs and Other Poems

If you have any favorite poems about rabbits or hares, feel free to share in the comments below!


Resources:

  1. National Geographic: “What’s the difference between rabbits and hares” 
  2. The Old Naturalist: Animal Tracking, Animal Tracks Gallery
  3. Frank Mitalsky: “Rabbit in the Moonlight” 
  4. Wallace Stevens; “A Rabbit As King of the Ghosts”
  5. Paul S Piper: Dog and Snow

Looking for something else to read? Naturalist Weekly also has several curated book lists including one for nature lovers, one about birds, and books featured on our blog

Naturalist Weekly runs on coffee and a passion for writing, and your donation will keep the coffee pot full and the content flowing.


27 thoughts on “About Rabbits and Hares

Add yours

  1. 4 dogs and this year rabbits! Snow shoes tend to stay deep in the woods behind us.
    You don’t sing this song everytime you see tracks or pellets?
    “Little bunny FooFoo, hopping through the forest.
    Scooping up the field mice, and bopping them on the head.”
    Might have a bit off, but one of those violent children’s songs.

    1. It is interesting that there aren’t a lot of poems about rabbits. There aren’t even many haiku about rabbits. I did find that that instead of the man in the moon, the Japanese have the rabbits in the moon. Definitely more to research needed there.

      1. Have you read or watched, “The Velveteen Rabbit”? If you can find the video on youtube narrated by Meryl Streep you will be delighted. There is a passage in there about becoming real that is poetry.

    1. Hi Tracy, I am glad that you found this helpful. I hear you about looking at tracks and not knowing which way they are heading. This is especially true if they are a couple of days old and most of the distinguishing features. Thanks for the comment!

  2. A fun post. The image of the snowshoe moving through the snow is the best example of the direction determination in image. Plus your marked up track picture is also great.

    1. Thanks! I do have to give credit to the Old Naturalist who originally created that photo. But it was so helpful that I couldn’t pass up using it. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Mark how wonderful to see such a beautiful white hare. We have quite a few common European hares around where I live in Australia. I just love watching them bounding across our paddock with their distinctive gait. We feel bad sometimes when we need to cut the grass to reduce the fire risk because they love hiding in the long growth. I understand they make nests above ground but are called different to what I thought according to my on-line research.

    Brown hares do not dig burrows, but shelter in ‘forms’, which are shallow depressions in the ground or grass; when disturbed, they can be seen bounding across the fields, using their powerful hind legs to propel them forwards, often in a zigzag pattern.
    Brown hare | The Wildlife Trusts

    http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/mammals/brown-…

    The white hare may do something different! I got distracted looking for poems about hares!

    1. Hi Lynn, Thank you for sharing about the brown hare! The snowshoe hare also lives above ground and uses the thick underbrush as its “nest”.
      I hear you about getting distracted looking for poems! Thanks for the comment and I hope all is well in Australia!

      1. Yes, all good here thanks Mark. No bushfires, floods or earthquakes! We are slowly seeing the latest COVID wave recede although still many cases and deaths unfortunately. But as our vaccination rates go up there is more freedoms. You take care too in your part of the world.

  4. We had cottontails and jack rabbits a-plenty at the farm. So different from one another in shape and character. As a stupid little farm kid, I remember picking up little tiny dry spheres and crumbling them between my fingers. Such fun, I thought, until someone told me it was rabbit poop. Live and learn, eh? 😀 There’s also the playful legend of the jackalope in these parts–part jack rabbit, part antelope. I loved to regale my nieces and nephews with fantastical tales of jackalopes and how herds of these hybrid monsters were essentially the “piranhas of the plains” and would devour unwary travelers in mere seconds. Of course, they eventually discovered the truth that their uncle was pulling their legs, but this quasi-mythical creature still lives on in gift shops in the area in order to fool unwitting tourists. Fun times. 😀 Loved the article, Mark. 🙂

    1. Hi Mike, Yes, I remember tales of the jackalope and the illustrations I would find in magazines. I like the piranhas of the plains angle of the story. I don’t know if I heard that before. . . . I wonder if I need to do a post about the Velveteen Rabbit and the Jackalope. That could be interesting. Thanks for adding to the story! I hope all is well.

      1. If you do decide on another rabbit essay, be sure to check out Watership Down, an amazing novel by Richard Adams about a group of rabbits fleeing the destruction of their warren in search of a new home. I read it as a teen and it’s a fascinating story. There are so many rabbit references in pop culture, from Carroll’s white rabbit to Donnie Darko’s horrifying rabbit-thing visitor to Bugs Bunny and more. I reckon a new term could be coined: “hop culture.” 😀

    1. That is fascinating and I wonder how that impacts his living conditions. Is there anything written about this rabbit? I would be interested in reading it. Thank you for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Built with WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: