Hares and rabbits are similar in size but hares are often a bit bigger with longer ears and back legs. To escape from a predator, rabbits tend to bolt underground while hares rely on speed and make a run for it. Hares and rabbits are both mammals, but actually they are completely different species! If you want to get technical, they both come from the family known as leporids and the genus Lepus. There are two species of hare in the UK: the European brown Hare and the Mountain Hare. In Ireland there is a sub-species of the Mountain hare called the Irish hare. Mountain hares are also brown, apart from during the winter months when they moult and produce a white coat, so they can’t be seen in the snow. Irish hares look similar to brown hares though can develop white patches during the winter.
Female brown hares have around four baby hares in each of their litters. They have three litters each year. Baby hares are pretty grown up as soon as they are born! Because they live overground, they have to be ready to run, so they are born with fur and with their eyes open. Baby hares are called leverets (baby rabbits are called kittens)
Rabbits and hares eat similar food like grass but there are differences. Hares are known to like a tough twig or piece of bark, while rabbits like a good vegetable. Unlike rabbits, hares do not live in groups or underground but above ground in simple nests. Hares used to live in lots of places across the UK but because of various reasons, their numbers are going down. But they can still be seen in decent numbers in certain places such as East Anglia, across Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire, in the south around Dorset and in the north such as Lancashire and Cleveland. In some parts of the country, such as most of the south west of England, hares are rarely seen and may even be extinct in some areas. Mountain hares – as their name would suggest – like to live in high altitudes so in the UK are generally found in Scotland. Like brown hares, their populations are shrinking and they are thought to be extinct in some areas where they once thrived.
Hares are endangered in the UK. The number of hares has dropped by about 80% in the last century or so. Most of the problem for hares has been caused by changes in farming practices, with the loss of hay meadows and hedgerows particularly damaging. Hares have also suffered because of cruel sports. As well as hare hunting and hare coursing, hares are also shot for sport. The hare is the only ‘game’ animal in England and Wales where there isn’t a ‘closed’ season, meaning they can be killed all year round – even when mothers are pregnant or have just given birth.
- Brown hares can reach speeds of up to 56 km/h (35mph). The fastest a human has ever run was athlete Usain Bolt in the 2009 World Athletics Championships when he reached 44.72km/h for a short period. He’d never have beaten a hare!
- Hares may be fast, but that didn’t stop one losing to a Tortoise in Aesop’s fable of The Tortoise and the Hare.
- During the spring mating season, female hares can be seen ‘boxing’ with the male hares. This is known as March Madness…
- …not to be confused with Lewis Carroll’s Mad March Hare, who always thought it was time for tea in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
- We’ve all heard of the Easter Bunny, but this famous creature is most likely to have been a hare – an animal which features in the myth and lore of many countries.