The snowshoe hare is a floofy member of the Leporidae family named for its large, webbed feet that look like snowshoes. Their sizable feet allow the hares to effortlessly bound over powdery snow, and also to be formidable swimmers.
In fact, with their powerful feet, they can reach speeds of 30 mph and jump 12 feet in a single bound!
The snowshoe hare is also known for their fur that changes color with the season, from reddish-brown in summer to white in the winter. This provides them with the perfect camouflage regardless of where they are currently residing. This characteristic also sometimes gives them the name “varying hare.”
Where do snowshoe hares like to live though? Let’s look into it.
What Kind Of Environment or Habitat Do Snowshoe Hares Prefer?
Table of Contents
- 1 What Kind Of Environment or Habitat Do Snowshoe Hares Prefer?
- 2 Are Snowshoe Hares Native To North America?
- 2.1 Are There Snowshoe Hares In Canada?
- 2.2 Where In The US Most Snowshoe Hares Found?
- 2.3 Are There Snowshoe Hares In My State?
- 2.4 US States Where There Aren’t Any Snowshoe Hares
- 3 Are There Snowshoe Hares In Latin and South America?
- 4 Are There Snowshoe Hares In The Rest Of The World?
- 5 Did Snowshoe Hares Use To Be More Widespread?
Despite their name, snowshoe hares are not actually limited to snowy habitats. They live in northern or boreal forests, and in forests found higher up on mountains. Sometimes, they are also found in woody swamps.
Snowshoe hares do not live underground in burrows. They prefer living among the dense shrub layer covering the forest ground, relying on natural shelters such as depressions, bushes, and even under fallen branches for their homes.
This habitat offers a second advantage to hares: providing them with a steady supply of food! Snowshoe hares eat grasses, buds, twigs, flowers, and leaves in the summer, and in the winter, switch to buds of hardwood such as aspen and willow.
Are Snowshoe Hares Native To North America?
Snowshoe hares are only located in North America, and are more concentrated the further up North you get. They are found in every province and territory in Canada, then trickle down in numbers towards the United States with a general wider distribution at the top and almost none at the bottom.
Are There Snowshoe Hares In Canada?
Yes – lots of them! The species was first introduced to Newfoundland as a source of food and hunting opportunities between 1864 and 1876. As the years passed, the species spread and can now be found in forests across most of Canada. The only places in Canada where they cannot be spotted are in the Arctic, Vancouver Island, the open areas of southern Ontario, and small areas of the prairies.
Where In The US Most Snowshoe Hares Found?
Snowshoe hares live in mountainous, coniferous forests and can be found in the states that have those habitats. These include the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachian Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, New England, Alaska, Minnesota, Michigan, and Montana.
In general, their population trend is marked by extreme highs and lows, or seemingly regular cycles of abundance and scarcity. This is typically observed over a 10-year cycle.
No one is sure of the exact cause or causes for the regular decline. Some speculations include predators, disease, overbrowsing of their food supply, or a combination of these.
What each peak high or low is though, varies per state and season.
Are There Snowshoe Hares In My State?
The snowshoe hare is the more common and widespread of the two hare species in Alaska, the other being the arctic hare. They are generally found all over the state except for the lower Kuskokwim Delta, the Alaska Peninsula, and the area north of the Brooks Range. Montana.
During peak abundance, there can be as many as 600 snowshoe hares per square mile.
Snowshoe hares do live in sunny California! They can be spotted in the middle and higher elevation habitats within the Klamath range, the southern Cascades, and the Sierra Nevada south to Mariposa, Mono, and Madera counties. The animal has also been reported in the northeastern Californian Warner Mountains.
Even though the snowshoe hare is a native species in Connecticut, the state is at the southern limits of the hare’s range. Their Connecticut population sizes have never been at par with other areas, such as New England and Canada.
Because of the benefits of having the snowshoe hare to your ecological system (they do things like help control the amount of dense vegetation and shrubbery by eating them, for example), several attempts have been made to translocate hares into the state.
In 1940 and 1941, approximately 2,000 snowshoe hares were set free in the towns of Torrington, Hartland, and Thompson. Additional evidence suggests that snowshoe hares were regularly brought in all the way until the early 1970s.
Unfortunately, the practice was discontinued due to concerns of the animals bringing in new diseases and spreading them to other local fauna.
By the 2000s, the snowshoe hare had become rather scarce in the state, making sightings of them noteworthy events.
The snowshoe hare is a common game species that can be found statewide in Maine.
It’s uncommon, but snowshoe hares and New England cottontail rabbits – the other native leporid species in the area – have been seen together in patches of young forest in Maine. In one instance they were even documented residing in the same habitat patch.
As with the other New England states of Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, snowshoe hares are found in abundance all over the state of Massachusetts. They are commonly spotted along and confused with the other native family leporidae species in the state, the New England Cottontail rabbit.
Two leporids are commonly found in Michigan – the cottontail rabbit, and the snowshoe hare.
The snowshoe hare is primarily found in the northern two-thirds of Michigan.
However, a study done by Michigan State University in 2014 noticed an alarming decline in the population of snowshoe hares. In fact, they have almost completely disappeared from half of the sites covered in the research in the Lower Peninsula in Michigan.
Thankfully, not all hope is lost yet and efforts have been made in crafting better forest management policies to protect the animals’ habitat. Thankfully also, hares (and rabbits) do have well-earned reputations for being prolific reproducers.
Snowshoe hares are found in the northern half of the state of Minnesota. Specifically, it enjoys living in woodlands with lots of dense brush on the floor, and also in forest bogs. Despite the big area, each hare actually spends its entire life in an area of just a few acres.
During peak population time, researchers estimate 3,400 hares per square mile.
Since the snowshoe hare is one of the animals hunted for sport, the number of harvested animals gives a clue to population sizes also. As a further example of the population size rise and fall cycle, Minnesotan hunters in 1980-81 caught 286,000 hares. Just five years later, that number dropped down to 12,000!
In Montana, snowshoe hares are most frequently spotted in the mountainous forests within the western and central regions of the state. Sometimes, however, they are also seen in the river bottoms and draws of eastern Montana.
As with several other states, researchers from the University of Montana are concerned with how climate change is affecting snowfall rates and how that affects the survival of the snowshoe hare not only in their region but across entire North America.
In a nutshell, since the duration of snow cover has shortened due to a general increase in the planet’s temperatures, the snowshoe hare’s fur can’t change color fast enough to camouflage again, making them extremely susceptible to predators and hunters.
Snowshoe hares can be found in the Sierra Nevada mountains, specifically in its middle and northern higher elevational zones. As typical with their species, they can be found bounding along the rivers, forests, and alpine meadows of the area.
The snowshoe hare is found in abundance all over the New England territory, which includes the state of New Hampshire. In particular, they are concentrated in the three northern counties of Coos, Grafton, and Carroll.
In the state of New York, snowshoe hares are mostly only found in the Adirondack Mountains.
In the 1950s and 1960s, their population density was reportedly very high but has been on a downward trend since. The ongoing theory of researchers is that it is related to climate change.
Snowshoe hares have never been overwhelmingly abundant or widespread in Ohio, but have been seen in moderate numbers in the “snow belt” counties of Geauga and Ashtabula. These regions have similar weather conditions to the snowshoe’s preferred habitat of mountainous forest regions.
At the turn of the 20th century, however, snowshoe hares were almost completely wiped out from Ohio due to massive deforestation that happened during that time. Between 1953 and 2007, numerous attempts were made to reintroduce the species to the state, with very limited success.
Currently, snowshoe hares are listed as one of the endangered species of Ohio.
In the state of Oregon, snowshoe hares are usually spotted in the southwestern area of the region which includes Willamette Valley, the coast, and the coastal mountain ranges. Since the snowshoe hare does not hibernate, it can be spotted all year round (not just in Oregon, but all of North America!).
Snowshoes in Pennsylvania live in coniferous forests with plenty of brush for food and hiding. They are sometimes also seen in younger brushy areas, such as in areas that were logged or burned down 7 to 10 years ago, and in swamps where cedar, spruce, or tamarack grow.
During peak population density periods, Pennsylvania has recorded numbers of 500 to 1000 snowshoe hares per square mile.
Snowshoe hares can be found in Rhode Island, but are rather rare. Specifically, they can be spotted along the state border as far south as Pachaug State Forest.
Snowshoe hares can be found all over the state of Vermont, but are generally more populous in mountainous regions and coniferous forests as opposed to valleys and farmlands.
It is speculated that snowshoe hares were probably once extremely widespread throughout the high elevations of the mountainous region of western Virginia.
Today, it is only present in isolated areas in Highland County and is actually considered an endangered species in the state. This is because of the burst of logging activity several decades ago, depriving the snowshoe hare of its natural habitat.
Washington State is home to three species of hares, one of which is the snowshoe hare.
To keep an eye on these hares, researchers from Washington State University have recently started using a new “camera-trapping” technology to measure snowshoe hare population sizes.
This is done for two reasons: First, they want to make sure that the species as a whole is still populous and thriving. Second, they want to use their population size as a gauge of the health of the entire ecosystem as a whole
West Virginia is considered an “extreme southern limit” of the snowshoe hare’s range. They are typically located in elevations over 3,000 feet, in spruce and hardwood forests.
As with a few other mentioned states, the West Virginia snowshoe hare population has been in decline due to climate change.
US States Where There Aren’t Any Snowshoe Hares
The snowshoe hare is virtually non-existent in the following US states. If you live in one of these states and know for a fact snowshoe hares exist in your community, please let us know!
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Carolina*
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
* Maryland, North Carolina, and Tennessee reportedly used to have native snowshoe hares in their state, but they have not been regularly seen in those places for at least a few decades.
** Snowshoe hare fossils have been discovered in the states of Arkansas and Missouri, suggesting snowshoe hares lived there centuries if not millennia ago.
Are There Snowshoe Hares In Latin and South America?
Floofmania was not able to find any evidence of snowshoe hares living in Latin and South America.
Are There Snowshoe Hares In The Rest Of The World?
Taking into consideration the fact that the snowshoe hare is specifically native to North America, we highly doubted finding the species in other parts of the world – but we checked anyway!
Floofmania found no reports of snowshoe hares living in Europe, but they do have their own European hare (Lepus europeaus), also known as the brown hare!
Australia only has one native species of hare: the very same European hare a.k.a. The brown hare. Aside from Europe and Australia, they also exist in Russia and Siberia.
Snowshoe hares do not live in Africa – and for that matter, neither do European hares. Should you ever find yourself on that continent, you will find yourself spotting a lot of African hares (Lepus victoriae) instead.
There are no snowshoe hares reported in all of Asia. That region is inhabited by the desert hare (Lepus tibetanus), specifically in the areas of Central Asia, Northwest China, and the western Indian subcontinent.
Did Snowshoe Hares Use To Be More Widespread?
Generally speaking, the snowshoe hare is considered to have a stable population size, taking into account its 10-year cycle of highs and lows. It has always been generally plentiful and is in no immediate danger of extinction but if climate change continues at the rate it’s going, researchers are concerned our floofy snowshoe hares may feel the hit very strongly.
Author: Bernice Go
Bernice Go is a violinist and orchestra manager by profession but a writer by hobby. She enjoys writing about various topics, from music to animals to self-development. When she isn’t playing the violin or writing, she loves reading, traveling, playing video games, and savoring a good cup of coffee.