ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Northland Nature: Snowshoe hares' feet allow them to scamper on snow

By the time we get to December, we (and other northern critters) expect to see a snow cover in the regional forests and open areas. Recent warm weather, however, melted most of the snow that did fall in November. As we exited the month, the only ...

By the time we get to December, we (and other northern critters) expect to see a snow cover in the regional forests and open areas. Recent warm weather, however, melted most of the snow that did fall in November. As we exited the month, the only places to be sure of finding snow was on the ice of nearby frozen lakes. Subsequent colder weather on the last two days of November gave us good conditions to prepare for a snow cover. It is always best that we get cold enough weather to freeze ponds, swamps and lakes and then the ground before we get a lasting snow cover. And sure enough, the early days of December gave us snow.

Usually by mid-November, the local wildlife that remains active here all winter will be in their winter attire. For most birds, this means a more drab plumage than their summer appearance. In the world of mammals, longer and often a grayer pelage takes over.

We do have a couple of nearby mammals that grow a coat of white in preparation for winter: the snowshoe hare and the weasel. (In its new coloration, it also takes on a wintertime name of ermine.)

So in tune with the North Country are these two that they expect and even count on a snow cover by this time. Under normal conditions, they blend in with the November snow and their camouflage serves them well. But if the snows are late or non-existent, this same hiding coat will fail to protect them.

During the last decade, we have experienced a few years (including this one) when the snows of November and even early December did not come as forecasted. This same coat that was to shield the hare and ermine from being seen, betrayed it. Seeing these critters became very easy with their white coat among the browns and grays at this time.

ADVERTISEMENT

Under these conditions, they become even more reclusive, being active at night (when they are less noticeable, but still visible) and many will get caught by predators. No doubt they have a few difficult and dangerous weeks until the snow finally does come; as it did this year during the first weeks of December.

We call them snowshoe hares because of their large feet. With paws like these, the hare are able to scamper about on the snow. Their cousins, the cottontail rabbits, also living in the Northland, do not have either the fur color or big feet to deal with winter. Snow is not as important in the life of the cottontail as it is with the snowshoe hare and so the range of these brown rabbits extends far to the south and east of here.

Snowshoe hares are a northern critter. Those living in our area are on the south part of their range.

Larry Weber is the author of six books, including "Fascinating Fungi of the North Woods."

What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.