snowshoe hare

(Lepus americanus virginianus)


This subspecies is the largest and most brightly colored snowshoe hare. It has a total average length of 513 mm and a total weight of 3-5 pounds. The summer coat is rich rusty brown on the dorsum, throat, and limbs and whitish on the chin and abdomen. The winter coat is almost entirely white or whitish, except for brownish wash on feet and ears, and dusk to black at tips of ears. The breeding season is between April and August and an average of 2-4 litters of 2-4 young are produced per year. The young are precocial-born with the eyes open and fur. It seldom digs, but will use hollow logs and burrows of ground hogs or other mammals. Permanent trails or beats are used for movement within its home range. It is nocturnal and usually solitary except during the breeding season. Like other hares it reingests its fecal pellets (coprophagy). Predators include bobcat, gray fox, red fox, red-tailed hawk, great horned owl, and barred owls. Another threat is the continued loss of habitat and second growth forests are lost due to the absence of timber harvesting. It normally lives 3 years in the wild.


At one time probably existed at high elevations throughout much of the mountainous region of western VA. Now it is only present in isolated areas in Highland County and is considered endangered in Virginia. Logging activities and the burning of red spruce forests resulted in hares becoming extinct throughout most of their former range. This species favors cool, shrubby bogs, or swampland thickly overgrown with rhododendron, hemlock, willow, alder, or brush.


It is primarily a grazer in the summer, feeding on a variety of grasses, clover, and herbs. In the winter it is more of a browser, eating buds, twigs, and bark of birch, maple, willow, spruce, and pines.