hare in snow, photo by Steve Sayles, license : Creative Commons 2.0


The Arctic hare lives throughout the tundra of Canada from Newfoundland to Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. It is also found on Arctic islands and Greenland. The Arctic hare lives in both mountainous and lowland areas. It likes places where plants grow quickly during the short summer season. For the winter it prefers sheltered areas where it does not have to dig in deep snow to search for food.


In the winter Arctic hares are white with black eartips. In the summer their color depends on where they live. On the tundra hares are brownish with blue-gray tones. The tail remains white all year round. In the far north hares remain almost white in summer with patches of brown on the nose, forehead and ears. Adult Arctic hares are the largest hares in North America.

summer coat, photo by Steve Sayles, license: Creative Commons 2.0
In areas where summer is longer, the coat of the hare turns brownish


The main food for the Arctic hare is woody plants. It will eat mosses, lichens, buds, berries, leaves, seaweed, bark, willow twigs and roots, and even the meat from hunters' traps . Often trappers will find hares caught in traps. The main food in the winter is the willow. They can smell the willows under the snow and start to dig. If the snow is too crusty they first thump on it with their powerful feet. They gnaw ( chew ) at the icy crust with their sharp teeth.


The young are born in late May, June, or July, depending on where they live. The farther north they are, the later the babies are born. Females may produce a second litter in one season. Average litter size is five babies.

The grey-brown babies (called leverets) are born in a small dent in moss or grass. Dry plants or fur from the mother lines the nest. The nest is often hidden behind a rock or bush. The babies are covered with fur and their eyes are wide open.

The mother does not leave her babies for the first 2 to 3 days. By the third day the young are able to lie very still. They almost look like the rocks and grass around them . The young gain 45 to 50 grams per day in their first month and no longer need mother's milk by the time they are a month old. By September they are the size of the adults.

arctic hare, photo U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; license : public domain


The claws on the front feet of the Arctic hare are long. The strong claws are used for digging in hard-packed snow. Their feet are thickly padded with fur

The Arctic hare's coat grows longer and thicker for the winter. They have a short thick undercoat protected by a longer top coat. The white fur makes the hare difficult to spot in the snow. It has small ears which lose less body heat than larger ears. To keep warm and conserve energy, a hare will tuck in its tail, paws and ears and sit still for hours.

Hares will form large groups. While some rest and feed the others act as guards. They gather together in the snow, under bushes or behind rocks. They also dig tunnels (dens) in the snow.

When alarmed they rise up on their hind legs to look for danger and then bound off very quickly . Hopping up on their hind legs like a kangaroo, they can reach speeds of 64 km. per hour. The hare can swim across narrow streams.

alert hare
image credit : David R. Gray, Canadian Museum of Nature


Arctic hare are food for Snowy Owls, other birds of prey, wolves, foxes, weasels and polar bears. So it must always be alert and ready to hop away if it senses an enemy. Sometimes it runs away on all fours or hops on its hind legs like a kangaroo.


Young hares quickly learn to sit perfectly still and become almost invisible to their enemies. The Arctic hare moves so quickly that wolves and foxes have a hard time keeping up with it.

jumping hare; source unknown

Hares may fight. They box, scratch and snap at one another but they do not bite.


by J.Giannetta
Regina, Sk.,Canada
June, 2000
updated August 2011

photos of Arctic Hare - by Steve Sayles, ; license : Creative Commons 2.0
information and photos : Ukaliq, the Arctic Hare site at