SIERRA WHITE-TAILED JACK RABBIT. Lepus townsendii sierrae
that of Black-tailed Jack Rabbit, but size larger and general build
heavier (fig. 34); feet heavily furred; tail large and fluffy. Head and
body 19-1/4 to 20-1/2 inches (491-519 mm.), tail 3-1/2 inches (89-92
mm.), hind foot 6-1/3 inches (1601-164 mm.), ear from crown 6 inches
(151 mm.). Body coloration (including ears) pale brown, ticked with
black in summer, solidly pure white in winter; tail and feet wholly
white at all seasons. Droppings: Flattened spheres about 1/2 inch
moderate numbers in high Sierras and at east base of mountains. Recorded
from Tuolumne Meadows, and near Half Dome, eastward to vicinity of Mono
Mills and slopes of Mono Craters. Ranges upward to 12,000 feet on higher
peaks. Lives chiefly in open or sparsely wooded situations. Active
mostly in late evening. Solitary.
The Sierra White-tailed Jack Rabbit is known to many
persons as the "snowshoe rabbit'; occasionally it is called Sierra Hare.
Like many of the other mammals and birds which occur along the crest of
the Sierras this hare is a member of a northern group which finds
conditions suitable for its existence in the boreal region of high
altitude on the main Sierra mountain mass and at its colder east base.
Locally, even in the midst of its range, this species is much less
common than is the Black-tailed Jack Rabbit in the low plains country.
For this reason among others exact information on many points in the
life history of the Sierra Hare is still to be obtained.
The main range of the White-tailed Jack Rabbit begins
at Tuolumne Meadows and Vogelsang Lake, where evidence of the species,
in the way of droppings scattered on open ground, was found by us to be
fairly abundant. An exceptional occurrence, reported by Mr. Lawrence
Souvelewski, was that of a White-tailed Jack Rabbit at the immediate
east base of Half Dome (altitude about 7500 feet). The animal was seen
there on numerous occasions during the summer of 1919. On none of the
western peaks (such as Mount Hoffmann, Mount Clark, or Clouds Rest) did
we find evidence of the presence of this species; but along the main
crest of the Sierras, rabbits were found to inhabit the gentler slopes
of all the higher peaks such as Parsons Peak, Mount Florence, Mount
Dana, and Warren Mountain, even up to altitudes of 12,000 feet. On the
east slope, White-tailed Jack Rabbits were observed at Walker Lake,
near Williams Butte, near Mono Mills, and on the slopes of Mono
When fully adult, this species is half again the size
of its black-tailed relative. Compared with the latter its ears are
slightly longer and proportionately broader, its head is more massive
(fig. 34), its pelage denser and longer, and its tail longer and more
fluffy in appearance; its feet are always heavily clad in fur (whence
the name "snowshoe rabbit"). The white-tail has two regular molts each
year. One in the fall changes the color of the animal from the pale
brown summer coat to the pure white of winter. The second molt, in the
spring, accomplishes a return to the brown pelage. The feet and tail do
not participate in this color change but remain white all summer, save
as discolored by contact with the ground. Sometimes certain areas on the
body retain remnants of the brown coloration when the animal is in the
white coat, and vice versa.
Fig. 34. Head of Sierra White-tailed
Jack Rabbit, one-half natural size. Compare with fig. 33.
These big rabbits seem generally to keep to open
places where they can see unobstructedly for long distances. Around
Tuolumne Meadows, flat-topped hills bearing moderately open stands of
trees together with some brush were often occupied. To this choice of
habitat on the part of the rabbits, and to their crepuscular or
nocturnal forage habits, we must attribute the general failure of
interested persons to see more of them. Probably the rabbit sees the
approaching person from afar and either makes off or else lies close in
the shelter of rocks or bushes. In the few cases where a member of our
party did catch sight of a rabbit it was usually from far off; the
rabbit promptly went still farther away and was soon lost to sight. Near
the Sierra Club camp of 1915 at the soda springs on Tuolumne Meadows one
or two White-tailed Jack Rabbits were seen repeatedly by members of the
Sierra Club and on a couple of occasions by some of our party. At this
point the animals had evidently become somewhat accustomed to the
presence of people.
On the Farrington ranch near Williams Butte one of
our party stayed out for over an hour, from dusk until after dark, on
the evening of September 21, 1915, watching for White-tailed Jack
Rabbits in a wild hay meadow. One of the animals came into view at 6:35
P.M. It ran out from some tall grass and willow brush into a place where
the grass had been cut, and there at some distance from the observer it
sat bolt upright. Walking quietly, the observer attempted to approach,
but the rabbit became frightened and started for another willow clump
across the field. It did not appear to hurry, but its easy run carried
it out of sight in an incredibly short time.
On another occasion, at Walker Lake, September 13,
1915, a White-tailed Jack Rabbit was come upon in a meadow. This was
after 6 o'clock, in the late dusk of evening, and snow was gently
falling. The rabbit, upon being frightened, loped away in easy fashion,
and disappeared among the trees. We were told that in winters when the
snow gets deep, the "snowshoes's" visit the haystacks of the Farrington
ranch in numbers to feed. They are then ambushed by the Indians.
The young of the White-tailed Jack Rabbit are
produced in the early spring months, to judge from the data at hand. A
half-grown animal was seen at close range near Mono Mills on June 8,
1916, and another of about the same stage of growth was shot on the
Farrington ranch near Williams Butte on June 25 the same year. The
latter animal already weighed 3-3/4 pounds (1.7 kilograms).