1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hare

HARE, the name of the well-known English rodent now designated Lepus europaeus (although formerly termed, incorrectly, L. timidus). In a wider sense the name includes all the numerous allied species which do not come under the designation of rabbits (see Rabbit). Over the greater part of Europe, where the ordinary species (fig. 1) does not occur, its place is taken by the closely allied Alpine, or mountain hare (fig. 2), the true L. timidus of Linnaeus, and the type of the genus Lepus and the family Leporidae (see Rodentia). The second is a smaller animal than the first, with a more rounded and relatively smaller head, and the ears, hind-legs and tail shorter. In Ireland and the southern districts of Sweden it is permanently of a light fulvous grey colour, with black tips to the ears, but in more northerly districts the fur—except the black ear-tips—changes to white in winter, and still farther north the animal appears to be white at all seasons of the year. The range of the common or brown hare, inclusive of its local races, extends from England across southern and central Europe to the Caucasus; while that of the blue or mountain species, likewise inclusive of local races, reaches from Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavia through northern Europe and Asia to Japan and Kamchatka, and thence to Alaska.

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Fig. 1.—The Hare (Lepus europaeus).

The brown hare is a night-feeding animal, remaining during the day on its “form,” as the slight depression is called which it makes in the open field, usually among grass. This it leaves at nightfall to seek fields of young wheat and other cereals whose tender herbage forms its favourite food. It is also fond of gnawing the bark of young trees, and thus often does great damage to plantations. In the morning it returns to its form, where it finds protection in the close approach which the colour of its fur makes to that of its surroundings; should it thus fail, however, to elude observation it depends for safety on its extraordinary fleetness. On the first alarm of danger it sits erect to reconnoitre, when it either seeks concealment by clapping close to the ground, or takes to flight. In the latter case its great speed, and the cunning endeavours it makes to outwit its canine pursuers, form the chief attractions of coursing. The hare takes readily to the water, where it swims well; an instance having been recorded in which one was observed crossing an arm of the sea about a mile in width. Hares are remarkably prolific, pairing when scarcely a year old, and the female bringing forth several broods in the year, each consisting of from two to five leverets (from the Fr. lièvre), as the young are called. These are born covered with hair and with the eyes open, and after being suckled for a month are able to look after themselves. In Europe this species has seldom bred in confinement, although an instance has recently been recorded. It will interbreed with the blue hare. Hares (and rabbits) have a cosmopolitan distribution with the exception of Madagascar and Australasia; and are now divided into numerous genera and subgenera, mentioned in the article Rodentia. Reference may here be made to a few species. Asia is the home of numerous species, of which the Common Indian L. ruficaudatus and the black-necked hare L. nigricollis, are inhabitants of the plains of India; the latter taking its name from a black patch on the neck. In Assam there is a small spiny hare (Caprolagus hispidus), with the habits of a rabbit; and an allied species (Nesolagus nitscheri) inhabits Sumatra, and a third (Pentalagus furnessi) the Liu-kiu Islands. The plateau of Tibet is very rich in species, among which L. hypsibius is very common.

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Fig. 2.—The Blue or Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus) in winter dress.

Of African species, the Egyptian Hare (L. aegyptius) is a small animal, with long ears and pale fur; and in the south there are the Cape hare (L. capensis), the long-eared rock-hare (L. saxatilis) and the diminutive Pronolagus crassicaudatus, characterized by its thick red tail.

North America is the home of numerous hares, some of which are locally known as “cotton-tails” and others as “jack-rabbits.” The most northern are the Polar hare (L. arcticus), the Greenland hare (L. groenlandicus) and the Alaska hare (L. timidus tschuktschorum), all allied to the blue hare. Of the others, two, namely the large prairie-hare (L. campestris) and the smaller varying hare (L. [Poecilolagus] americanus), turn white in winter; the former having long ears and the whole tail white, whereas in the latter the ears are shorter and the upper surface of the tail is dark. Of those which do not change colour, the wood-hare, grey-rabbit or cotton-tail, Sylvilagus floridanus, is a southern form, with numerous allied kinds. Distantly allied to the prairie-hare or white-tailed jack-rabbit, are several forms distinguished by having a more or less distinct black stripe on the upper surface of the tail. These include a buff-bellied species found in California, N. Mexico and S.W. Oregon (L. [Macrotolagus] californicus), a large, long-legged form from S. Arizona and Sonora (L. [M.] alleni), the Texan jack-rabbit (L. [M.] texanus) and the black-eared hare (L. [M.] melanotis) of the Great Plains, which differs from the third only by its shorter ears and richer coloration. In S. America, the small tapiti or Brazilian hare (Sylvilagus brasiliensis) is nearly allied to the wood-hare, but has a yellowish brown under surface to the tail.

See also Coursing.  (R. L.*)