An omnivorous species, the Arctic hare’s diet is mostly composed of woody plants such as Arctic willow (Salix arctica) (1) (3) (9), as well as grasses, herbs, berries, buds, shrubs and lichens (4) (9). An opportunistic feeder, the Arctic hare may also eat small animals and carrion (3). This species has an acute sense of smell, which enables it to locate and dig for food in the snow (4) (9).
The Arctic hare runs erratically and leaps while running away from a predator to try and escape (5) (6), sometimes reaching speeds of up to 60 kilometres per hour (5). Its low body fat content and long legs compared with its body size, give it a highly efficient form of locomotion (5).
The Arctic hare is mostly solitary. However, during winter months, this species may demonstrate ‘flocking’ behaviour, sometimes gathering in large groups of up to 3,000 individuals (3). This unique behaviour may offer the Arctic hare protection from predators such as the Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) making it harder for predators to catch an individual without being seen (2). The ‘flock’ are synchronised with each other and are able to move, run and change direction at the same time (3).
The breeding season of the Arctic hare begins in April or May (5), with the male pursuing the female and biting her neck, which often draws blood (3). The gestation period is around 53 days (1) (5), with females usually giving birth to a litter of between 2 and 8 young hares, or ‘leverets’, in June or July (4) (5). The female Arctic hare gives birth in a depression in the ground, which is lined with grass, moss and fur or sheltered under rocks (2) (3) (5).
Arctic hare leverets are born at an advanced stage of development, with fur and open eyes (6). The female returns to feed the leverets every 18 hours with highly nutritious milk (3) (8), eventually leaving them to fend for themselves when they are fully weaned after 8 or 9 weeks (2) (5).
The moult into winter or summer pelage is dependent on the number of daylight hours. When the Arctic hare detects a change in the number of daylight hours, hormones are released which trigger the moult (3).