European hare (Lepus europaeus)

Brief background:
4-6 kg
Length: 55-70 cm; tail – ~10 cm; ears – slightly more than 10 cm. The females are slightly larger and approximately 200 g heavier than males!
Sexual maturity age: approximately at one year of age
Mating period: March-September; as many as 2-3 broods per year are possible
Gestation period: ~ 1.5 months (42-43 days)
Number of offspring: 3-5 (2-9), born starting from March (the first litter) until September (the last litter)
Lifespan: 7-13 years, males live longer than females
Natural predators: dogs, cats, foxes, lynx, wolves, large birds of prey
Status of the species in Latvia: A comparatively common species in the entire territory of the country. According to the data of the Central Statistical Bureau for 2017, the population of European hares in Latvia reaches approximately 23,500 individuals.

Where do they live? The hares predominantly inhabit open areas, fields of agricultural cultures, as well as areas bordering on water bodies, forests, small woods, swamps and shrubland areas. They prefer areas that are rich in tasty herbaceous plant and grass based food.

How do they live? Predominantly – solitary. Hares only seek the company of other hares while raising offspring or mating. These are comparatively short periods. Only does care for the leverets, which manifests as feeding of the young and further running her own business. As early as at the age of one month the young hare starts an independent life. Hares are very cautious animals. They frequently suffer from various diseases, adverse weather conditions, agricultural equipment and agricultural chemicals used by people.

What do they eat? Hares are pronounced herbivores with a very wide food base. What is a wide food base? Dandelions, clover, various cereals, plants of the cabbage, papilionaceous plant and aster family, legumes, corn, grasses and cereals, roots, root vegetables, vegetables, tree and shrub bark, twigs, young shoots, buds.

Did you know?

  • There are 32 hare species worldwide.
  • European hare is one of the largest hares in the world.
  • European hare has approximately 16 subspecies.
  • Hares are very solitary, cautious and elusive animals.
  • Hares are mainly active during night and dusk hours, spending most of their day time motionlessly sleeping.
  • If required, for instance, during floods, hares are good swimmers.
  • Hares are nearsighted. Their vision is very poor – at a distance hares are only capable of discerning mobile objects.
  • Hares have a wide angle of vision - they can look into all directions without moving their heads.
  • The front teeth of hares grow continuously due to constant grinding.
  • The long and strong hind legs of hares, their large nostrils and hearts are adaptations of their bodies for fast running.
  • When in danger, the hares are able to run at a speed of 50 km/h by making fast jumps sidewards and changing the direction of their movement, thus exhausting their predator.
  • Hares are susceptible to various diseases and are often vectors and distributors of these diseases.
  • During the mating periods, bucks are seen to engage in interesting battles or boxing contests - they stand on their hind legs and hit with their front legs.
  • Bucks produce whistling sounds and drum with their hind legs against the ground during the mating period.
  • Hares have five fingers on their front legs and four - on hind legs.
  • The long ears of the hares help them to stay cool in hot weather.
  • Hares are characterised by coprophagy or eating of their own faeces. This enables their digestive system to digest food completely and to better absorb various minerals from food.
  • Hares tend to grind on deer, moose and roe deer antlers, as well as munch on the residues of animal skeletons, which enables them to take up the necessary minerals.
  • To get rid of skin parasites, hares take sand baths.
  • In very rare cases European hares can interbreed with mountain hares, which results in sterile offspring.
  • In contrast to rabbits, hares do not dig burrows, they create (scratch) small furrows in the ground to sleep in.
  • Hares have 48 chromosomes, rabbits have only 44.
  • Hares are game animals.
  • In many countries, rabbits and hares are associated with the Moon and are called Moon animals. They also symbolise fertility agility, sharp wit, alertness and magic power.
  • An Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre is associated with a hare, therefore this animal has become a symbol of spring equinox or Easter.
  • The English saying “mad as a March hare” originates from the mating behaviour of hares in spring.

Myths and truth

Mountain hare is not a winter “version” of European hare. They are two different species! How to distinguish an European hare from a mountain hare? Mountain hares are slightly smaller and stockier than European hares; they have shorter ears, legs and tail, and furthermore, they lack the typical black spot at the top of the tail, which is characteristic of European hares. The fur of the European hare is greyish in colour in all seasons, while the mountain hare is white in winter and has brownish fur in summer. The European hares make longer jumps, when running, they are capable of throwing their hind legs further forward than the mountain hare is capable of doing. The European hare makes side jumps less frequently and their sideways diversions, while running, are larger.

Does do not normally feed strange leverets! Every doe feeds her own children.

At Līgatne Nature Trails, hares are kept in a common enclosure with roe deer.