From Alaska to Minnesota, as long as it is cold and there are woods to frolic in, you can be sure that a snowshoe hare will be there. Snowshoe hares have long been a part of the ecosystem up north for so long that they are now integral to the local environment.
Our long-eared friends have been instrumental in maintaining the population of both predators and plants up there.
For an animal as important as them, it is important that we understand them. What is their habitat? How do snowshoe hares survive? What is their environmental impact?
Join us in Floofmania as we dive into where the snowshoe hares prefer to live and how they have adapted to their habitats.
What Kind Of Habitat Do Snowshoe Hares Prefer?
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When it comes to their habitat, snowshoe hares like the cold. These mammals are found almost exclusively in places in chilly climates like Canada and Alaska, or in scattered populations in other states that have high mountains.
In these places, snowshoe hares inhabit the boreal and coniferous forests, where they have access to all the plants they can eat. Aside from easy access to food, the woods also offer plenty of shelter for our fluffy friends where they can hide from predators and hunters.
What Kind Of Food Sources Do Snowshoe Hares Need?
The great thing about the forest is the wide selection of plant life for the snowshoe hares. That diversity will become very important because a snowshoe hare’s diet will change throughout the seasons, so they need options.
During the spring and summer, when the forests are green, snowshoe hares can eat the plants on the forest floor. Things like grass, clovers, ferns, and even garden plants are commonplace during this time, so they won’t go hungry.
Later in the year, when the temperature drops during fall and winter, finding edible plants is much more difficult. Since they are covered in a layer of snow, our furry friends have to rely on other food sources, which is why they turn to trees.
Things like bark and twigs, especially from aspen trees can provide hares with all the nutrients they need over the next few months until the snow thaws.
Where do Snowshoe Hares Make Their Home?
Snowshoe hares prefer to use what the forest already provides when it comes to their homes. Places like holes in the ground or shrubby areas can make for excellent shelters for our little friends.
These places are small enough to squeeze into, making it difficult for larger predators to follow. They also allow hares to hide in plain sight, making them ideal homes for shy animals to avoid dealing with other forest critters.
Do Snowshoe Hares Need To Live Near Water?
Snowshoe hares prefer to make their homes far away from bodies of water, as these little guys are pretty shy and prefer to avoid other, larger animals. Places like rivers and streams tend to be densely populated, making living there too risky for hares who want to avoid drawing attention.
Snowshoe hares prefer to make their homes in isolated parts of the forest where they can live in peace.
While they avoid living close to the water, it doesn’t mean snowshoe hares hate the water, and they still often venture to bodies of water to drink and even swim.
The interesting thing about them is that snowshoe hares are excellent swimmers. This ability is thanks to their large webbed feet, allowing them to paddle across the water. Hares can use their swimming skills to escape from predators or simply go for a dip.
They also do not rely on bodies of water for grooming, like other animals, as hares make use of other methods to clean themselves.
Can Snowshoe Hares Adapt To Different Environments?
All animals carry particular adaptations to survive in their natural habitat. While some are a bit less obvious, others are as clear as day, such as with the snowshoe hare whose adaptation is right in their name.
Snowshoe Hares Use Their Large Feet for the Snow
If you live in an area with lots of snow, you know how difficult it can be to move around. Most of the time, the snow breaks under your feet, causing you to sink with each step, making each step more difficult. But for snowshoe hares, that isn’t a problem.
Snowshoe hares get their name from their large webbed feet. These feet are larger than most of their cousins’ and make walking on snow much easier as the hare’s larger feet distribute their weight around, so they are less likely to sink into the snow. This adaptation allows them to walk on top of the snow’s surface.
Aside from walking on the snow, these large feet are also great for swimming. Their feet are webbed, which makes them natural for paddling.
Snowshoe Hares’ Fur Changes with the Seasons
If you look at pictures of the snowshoe hare online, more often than not, they will be sporting a coat of pure white fur. That isn’t just a coincidence, as their fur is that color because it allows them to blend in with their environment during winter. Since these hares can’t fight, they rely on hiding for survival, and being able to camouflage themselves is a huge win.
Come spring, though, you will see them shedding those coats for a fresh one and, with it, a new fur color. From white, these snowshoe hares will now sport a reddish-brown color that allows them to hide in the dirt and rocks.
What Impact Do Snowshoe Hares Have On The Environment?
So we know that snowshoe hares benefit greatly from the environment, but does the environment benefit from having these little guys running around? Absolutely!
Snowshoe hares are essential parts of the ecosystem they inhabit, so much so that they are called keystone species. Being a keystone species means that a particular species is critical to the habitat, and without them, the whole ecosystem could spiral out of control.
Snowshoe Hares Keep Predators Fed
Snowshoe hares constitute a significant food source for many predators, such as bobcats, lynxes, hawks, and countless other species.
The number of snowshoe hares in an area can directly impact the population of these animals, as, without enough hares, an area cannot support a large population of predators. The predators will either need to migrate elsewhere or starve without a food source.
Snowshoe Hares Keep Vegetation Under Control,
Of course, snowshoe hares have to eat, too, and subsist primarily on plant life. Aside from shrubs and bushes, they can also keep plant matter, such as branches and leaves, from covering the ground. These activities can reduce the amount of debris on the forest floor and control the population of plants.
Although a good thing, too much of anything is bad, and too many snowshoe hares can strip the area bare. Without any plant life, which means less food for other herbivores.
Snowshoe Hares Keep Us Warm
Aside from the animals out in the wild, snowshoe hares also directly impact us, humans, in more ways than one. Among the people living in the northern parts of the continent, our little friends have been a constant means of warmth and food.
Many hunters catch and cook snowshoe hares for food which can be an excellent source of protein. Aside from eating them, snowshoe hares’ fur can also be turned into clothing which helps keep the people living there warm. During the years of the fur trade, hares were one of the many animals targeted.
While the practice is far less common as people rely less on wild game to survive, there are still many people who hunt hares recreationally.
What Would Happen If Snowshoe Hares Disappeared?
Think of the environment as an archway, with all the species being the bricks. All the bricks work together to prevent the arch from falling over, and removing any piece weakens the structure. The most important one, though, is the brick in the middle of the arch, the keystone.
While removing any other brick might make things unsteady, the keystone is what holds the two ends together. If you remove that, it will cause everything to collapse.
So, say the snowshoe hares all disappear; it will affect the entire habitat, and the most affected will be the predators. Since predators depend directly on the snowshoe hares for food, having them gone will be a severe problem in the food chain.
Without an immediate alternative, these species might starve. Animals like lynxes, who are already vulnerable, will suffer greatly as they could further decline in numbers. Predators will have to turn to other prey and begin hunting them, putting strain on them. If they don’t think they can get enough food, they may choose to leave the area.
Are Snowshoe Hares Affected By Climate Change?
While they are not as severely affected as other animals, even snowshoe hares aren’t immune from climate change. One of the big problems that can affect snowshoe hares is the changes in season length. As the temperature rises, winter will shorten and provide less snow, leading to a problem with hares’ camouflage.
Although snowshoe hares’ fur color changes according to the season, they cannot do it instantaneously, and it takes time to shed a coat. Shorter winters mean they have less time to shed their winter coats, leaving them vulnerable to predators.
A warming climate can also mean that other predators might encroach on their habitat. While bobcats hunt snowshoe hares, they stay in the warmer areas and rarely go as far north as Alaska or northern Canada.
If the weather starts to warm up, the temperature might ease up enough that more bobcats might start appearing in these places, putting more pressure on snowshoe hares.
Author: Quade Ong
Hello there, my name is Quade. I have been a writer for three years but an animal lover for over two decades. I grew up in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, which has given me the blessing of seeing all sorts of beautiful animals. Now I strive to learn not just about the animals I am from, but those all over the world!