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March 1, 2010

Wild About Utah: Snowshoe Hare

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

The opening of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver brings back fond memories of Utah’s stint as host of the winter games back in 2002. Many Utahans will recall that among Salt Lake’s three Olympics mascots was “Powder,” a playful snowshoe hare.

Powder represented “faster” in Salt Lake’s triumvirate motto of “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (Faster, Higher, Stronger) and the description is apt for the nimble mammal that owes much of its survival to its comically large feet.

Utah State University wildlife biologist Dustin Ranglack says the snowshoe hare’s feet are ideally suited for racing from predators in deep mountain snow. “Snowshoe hares are known as the ‘Snickers bars of the forest’ because they’re a popular treat for a host of carnivores, including coyotes, foxes, lynx, bobcats, bears and birds of prey.”

Ranglack notes that the hare, which he describes as “the cutest bunny rabbit you’ve ever seen,” sports another defensive trait that serves the animal well: its distinctive camouflage coat. In winter, the hare’s soft, fine fur turns white to blend into the snowy terrain. As spring thaws the wintry landscape, the hare’s fur turns brown to help it elude predators.

Coupled with its prolific breeding habits, the snowshoe appears to have a robust arsenal of defenses as it feeds at night following well-worn forest paths to feast on trees, shrubs, grasses and plants. Yet scientists observe that climate change may disrupt photo cycles that keep the color of hares’ fur in sync with its surrounding landscape. A white hare may end up sitting on brown earth in full view of ravenous predators, upsetting the delicate balance of advantage.

“The hares are fast, yes, but their best mechanism of defense is camouflage,” Ranglack says.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.


Text: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Wild About Utah is a weekly nature series produced by Utah Public Radio in cooperation with Stokes Nature Center and Bridgerland Audubon Society. Archives of the program can be found at www.wildaboututah.org.

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