What Do Snowshoe Hares Eat

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Snowshoe hares, scientifically known as Lepus americanus, are unique mammals native to North America. Their habitat primarily consists of boreal forests, where they are well-adapted to thrive in the changing climate throughout the year. Sporting large, furry hind feet resembling snowshoes, these hares are nimble creatures known for their speed and agility, which are essential for their survival.

The diet of snowshoe hares plays a crucial role in their ability to adapt to the varying seasons. During the summer months, they primarily feast on herbaceous plants, grasses, and the new growth of woody vegetation. As winter approaches, their diet shifts towards twigs, buds, and bark to sustain themselves in their snowy surroundings. Snowshoe hares occasionally consume dead animals, but their primary source of nutrition comes from plant materials.

Key Takeaways

  • Snowshoe hares are native to North America and thrive in boreal forests
  • Their diet varies with the seasons, consuming plants and new growth in summer, and twigs, buds, and bark during winter
  • Despite occasionally eating dead animals, snowshoe hares primarily rely on plant materials for nutrition

With their lightning-quick movements, snowshoe hares, along with their relatives such as the Antelope Jackrabbit, have captured the interest and admiration of many.

Physical Characteristics

Size and Weight

Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) are medium-sized mammals found in the alpine regions of North America, Alaska, and Canada. They typically measure between 16 to 20 inches in length and weigh around 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds). The large size of their hind feet, which gives them the “snowshoe” name, helps prevent them from sinking into the snow when hopping or walking.

Color Adaptation

A fascinating feature of the snowshoe hare is its ability to change fur color with the seasons. In summer, their fur is brown or grayish-brown, which allows them to blend into the surrounding vegetation. As the days grow shorter and colder, their fur gradually turns white, offering excellent camouflage against the snow-covered landscapes of winter. This coloration change also extends to their tail – it’s white year-round, but in winter, it maintains a slightly darker shade on its underside, further enhancing their camouflage abilities.

Their remarkable color adaptation helps snowshoe hares evade predators and stay hidden in various environments as the seasons change. This seasonal molt occurs twice a year, once in the spring when they transition from white to brown fur, and again in autumn when they transition back to white in preparation for the snowy winter months.

Lifestyle and Behaviour

Daily Routine

Snowshoe hares are primarily nocturnal animals, meaning they are more active at night and during the early hours of morning and evening. Their large ears help them detect predators, even while they are resting. Sleeping mainly during the day, snowshoe hares have a fascinating ability to sleep with their eyes open, which helps them stay alert to any potential threats.

Predation and Defense

Their nocturnal habits aid in avoiding predators that are more active during the day. Snowshoe hares rely on their incredible speed (top speed of 45 km/h), agility, and camouflage for protection. Their fur changes color throughout the year, turning rusty brown in summer and white during winter, helping them blend in with their surroundings.

Facing various predators, such as owls, foxes, and lynxes, these hares remain vigilant, listening to their surroundings with their acute hearing while foraging among the brush. Their diet primarily consists of grasses, flowers, and new tree growth during summer months. In winter, they consume twigs, buds, and bark.


Snowshoe hares have a unique reproductive pattern. They breed during spring and summer, producing multiple litters in one season. As opposed to other animals, rabbits do not mate for life, and snowshoe hares are no exception. Their reproduction process focuses on producing multiple juveniles in a relatively short period, ensuring the survival of their species despite facing numerous predators.

Although their average lifespan in the wild is relatively short – up to one year – snowshoe hares withstand many challenges in their environment through their effective adaptations and behavior.

Geographical Distribution

North American Regions

The Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus) is primarily distributed throughout North America, occurring in regions such as Alaska, Canada, and parts of the United States. They are commonly found in the boreal forests and mountainous areas, particularly in the Rocky Mountains and Appalachian Mountains. These hares have a wide range, adapting well to various habitats such as coniferous forests, mixed forests, and some types of deciduous forests.

Specific States and Provinces

In the United States, Snowshoe Hares occur in several states, including Alaska, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Maine, Pennsylvania, Montana, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Virginia. In Canada, they can be found in all provinces and territories, particularly in the Yukon.

Their distribution across these areas is influenced by factors such as elevation, forest type, and vegetation availability. They typically thrive in habitats that provide ample cover from predators, along with abundant food sources like grasses, ferns, and leaves in summer, and twigs, buds, and bark in winter.

Please note that the information presented here is provided in a confident, knowledgeable, neutral, and clear manner, asrequested, using third-person point of view and written in English.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Snowshoe hares primarily have a herbivorous diet, feeding on a variety of plants and vegetation throughout the year. In the summer months, they consume grass, ferns, and leaves, while in winter, their diet consists of twigs, buds, and bark. Evidently, their feeding habits change depending on seasonal availability of food sources.

These hares are known for their distinctive browsing behavior, often leaving behind well-defined browse-lines, also referred to as “hare lines.” This is a result of their heavy consumption of available vegetation. To make the most of their plant-based diet, snowshoe hares sometimes re-ingest their feces in order to extract all available nutrients from the consumed plants.

Though predominantly herbivorous, snowshoe hares have been known to occasionally eat carcasses of dead animals. This behavior, however, is not common among snowshoe hares and should not be considered a staple part of their diet.

Snowshoe hares are primarily nocturnal animals, with heightened senses that aid in detecting predators. Their feeding habits reflect this, as they are mainly active during the night and can be spotted feeding alone or in small groups.

Predators and Threats

Snowshoe hares face numerous predators that threaten their survival. Their primary predators include lynx, which have a strong predator-prey relationship with the hares. This relationship affects the population of both species, as their numbers often fluctuate together.

In addition to lynx, snowshoe hares are also hunted by other predators such as owls, coyotes, hawks, foxes, bobcats, and wolves. Occasionally, golden eagles have been known to prey on snowshoe hares as well. Predation is a major factor in their survival, especially during the winter months when other food sources for predators are scarce.

The snowshoe hare’s unique camouflage serves as an adaptation to help protect it from predation. During the winter, their fur turns white, allowing them to blend in with the snow. Conversely, in the summer, their fur changes to a brownish color, enabling them to better blend in with their surroundings. This seasonal color change helps them evade detection by predators.

Despite their ability to camouflage, snowshoe hares cannot escape all predation. Their survival often relies on minimizing the risks they face, by staying close to cover and utilizing bursts of speed to flee from danger. These animals do not hibernate, making them an available food source for predators all year long.

Snowshoe hares communicate using various vocalizations, including those that signal alarm or distress. Knowing the different sounds bunnies make can help us understand rabbit behavior and might even help shed light on how snowshoe hares may try to warn each other of potential threats.

Having a wide range of predators, the snowshoe hare’s survival depends on a combination of camouflage, alertness, and swift evasive actions. These adaptations, their diet, and their careful behavior all contribute to the resilience of these fascinating animals in their natural habitats.

Population and Conservation Status

Snowshoe hares, also known as varying hares, are widely distributed across North America, particularly in boreal forests and mountainous regions. Their population density fluctuates, primarily depending on the availability of food sources and the presence of predators.

During the breeding season, snowshoe hares can produce multiple litters, with each litter containing up to eight leverets, or young hares. As a result, their population can grow rapidly when conditions are favorable. However, it is not uncommon for their population to experience cyclical changes due to factors such as predation pressure, food availability, and climatic fluctuations.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), snowshoe hares are listed as a species of “Least Concern.” This means that they are relatively common and widespread, with a stable population trend. Conservation efforts for this species have not been a primary concern due to their relatively healthy population status.

Nonetheless, it is essential to continue monitoring the snowshoe hare population and its habitat, as environmental alterations and habitat loss could potentially pose future threats. By maintaining a healthy ecosystem that supports the hares’ sources of food and shelter, it is possible to ensure the long-term stability of their population.

In conclusion, the snowshoe hare, with its ability to produce multiple litters during the breeding season, plays a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance within its habitat. While currently listed as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, it is important to remain aware of any changes to their population or threats to their habitat, ensuring a stable and thriving population for the foreseeable future.

Frequently Asked Questions

What types of plants are part of the snowshoe hare’s diet?

Snowshoe hares have a diverse diet that includes herbaceous plants, grasses, flowers, and new growth from trees. Their food preferences may vary depending on their habitat and the availability of vegetation.

Do snowshoe hares only eat plants?

Yes, snowshoe hares are primarily herbivores, meaning they mainly consume plant materials. Their diet consists of various plants, including grasses, flowers, and new growth from trees. However, there is no evidence to suggest that they consume any other types of food besides plants.

Which trees do snowshoe hares consume?

Snowshoe hares are known to consume new growth from trees, such as twigs, buds, and bark. The specific types of trees they consume may depend on their habitat and the availability of tree species in their environment.

Are snowshoe hares herbivores?

Yes, snowshoe hares are herbivores, meaning they only eat plant matter. Their diet consists of a variety of plants, including grasses, flowers, and new growth from trees, which they forage for in their natural habitats.

What vegetation do snowshoe hares prefer?

Snowshoe hares prefer various types of vegetation, depending on the season. During summer, they eat herbaceous plants, grasses, and flowers. In winter, they tend to consume twigs, buds, and bark from trees. These food preferences help them adapt to the seasonal changes in their environment.

How do seasonal changes affect snowshoe hare diets?

Seasonal changes greatly affect the diet of snowshoe hares. In the summer months, they feed on herbaceous plants, grasses, and flowers, while in the winter, they shift their diet to include twigs, buds, and bark from trees. This adaptation allows them to find food sources and survive in their changing environment.

As for rabbits, they are smart animals, and it can be interesting to learn about their intelligence and how it compares to other animals, including the snowshoe hare.

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