Brown hare (Lepus europaeus)

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Brown hare running in meadow
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Brown hare fact file

Brown hare description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderLagomorpha
FamilyLeporidae
GenusLepus (1)

The general form and structure of the brown hare resembles that of the rabbit, but obvious differences include the hare's longer, larger body, much longer hind legs, and longer ears with black tips (2). Generally, brown hares are a brown-russet colour, with a white underside. The tail is black on the upper surface and white underneath. In contrast to rabbits, which have a brown iris, the brown hare has a golden iris and a black pupil (4).

Also known as
European brown hare, European hare.
French
Lièvre D'Europe.
Spanish
Liebre Europea.
Size
Length: 52 - 59.5 cm (2)
Weight
3 - 4 kg (2)
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Brown hare biology

The brown hare is predominantly nocturnal, spending most of the day in small depressions in the grass known as forms. At night the hare ventures out, grazing on the young shoots of grasses and herbs as well as agricultural crops. Hares escape predation by outrunning their enemies; with their powerful hind legs they can reach speeds of up to 45 miles per hour (2).

Courtship involves boxing; this well-known 'mad March hare' behaviour actually involves unreceptive females fending off amorous males. Breeding usually occurs between February and September, females typically give birth to around three litters each year of two to four young (leverets). Leverets are born with their eyes open, and are left alone in the day in forms to avoid attracting predators. The mother returns at sunset and the leverets gather around her to suckle (2).

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Brown hare range

The brown hare is widespread throughout central and western Europe, including most of the UK, although it is absent from the northwest and western highlands in Scotland, where the species is replaced by the mountain hare (Lepus timidus) (5). It is likely that the Romans introduced the brown hare to Britain, as there are no records of this species before Roman times (5).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Brown hare habitat

The species mainly inhabits agricultural grassland in temperate, open habitats (2).

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Brown hare status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Classed as a game animal so little legal protection (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Brown hare threats

Numbers of the once abundant brown hare underwent a decline in the 1960s and 70s. The UK population now appears to be remaining fairly stable (3); current estimates put the winter population at between 600,000 to 800,000 individuals (3).The decline was due to a combination of factors including the widespread intensification of agricultural practices, such as the conversion of grassland to arable crops, and changes in cropping regimes, which may remove important food sources at vital times of the year (2). Shooting, poaching and coursing are likely to have contributed to the decline, as has the increase in the numbers of the hare's major predator, the fox (Vulpes vulpes) (2).

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Brown hare conservation

The brown hare is a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP), the species action plan aims to maintain and expand existing populations, doubling spring numbers in Britain by 2010 (5). Aspects of hare ecology are currently being studied; this aims to guide conservation work (5). The species has minimal legal protection as it is classed as a game species. It is still hunted throughout its breeding season and is the only UK game species not to have a closed season, when hunting is prohibited (3).

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan for this species is available at UK BAP.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more on this species, see:

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Authentication

Information authenticated by Dr Pat Morris.

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Glossary

Nocturnal
Active at night.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Game Conservancy Trust (January, 2002)
    http://www.gct.org.uk
  3. Mammal Society (January, 2002)
    http://www.abdn.ac.uk/mammal/brown_hare.shtml
  4. Morris, P. (2002) Pers. comm.
  5. UK Biodiversity. Brown hare Species Action Plan (January, 2002)
    http://www.ukbap.org.uk
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Image credit

Brown hare running in meadow  
Brown hare running in meadow

© Frédéric Desmette / Biosphoto

Biosphoto
16 rue Velouterie
Avignon
84000
France
Tel: +33 (490) 162 042
Fax: +33 (663) 208 434
http://www.biosphoto.com/

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