In the summer months, the snowshoe hare is dark brown with a small black-tipped tail, moderately long ears, and well-furred large hind feet. Longer days trigger the chemical melatonin which is responsible for the development of color pigments creating the varying browns and grays of the summer camouflage. In the winter, its fur turns white. Shorter days and the lack of sunlight fail to trigger this chemical which results in the absence of color, thus the hair that grows in during the winter is white. If the hare detects a predator, it will run in a zig-zag pattern as it goes for cover.
Its main habitat is the forests in the Rocky Mountain National Park. These hares are primarily nocturnal. During the day they will rest in shallow depressions under the cover of shrubbery. During the winter, their diet will consist of bark and young twigs of woody plants. Sometimes they will leave saplings stripped of bark at the snowline which can result in the death of the saplings. However this thinning of some of the young trees can actually result in improving the conditions of the surviving trees.
Adult snowshoe hares are largely solitary, but during mating season the males do fight among themselves and pregnant females are openly hostile to the males. Breeding occurs from March to August. After a gestation period of about 38 days, a litter of one to seven young are born. These young are well-furred and their eyes are open. Growth is rapid and by three to five months, they have reached their adult weight.
Did You Know?
The oldest rocks in the park are metamorphic (biotite schist and gneiss) estimated at 1.7 billion years old, making them some of the oldest rocks within the National Park System.