Up | Mortality | A Year in the Life
Young hares are called leverets. In the High Arctic, Arctic
hares (Lepus arcticus) are born in June with an average litter
containing five leverets. In Newfoundland they are also born
in June but the average litter size is three leverets. Arctic
hares are born in the open, with no shelter except a shallow
depression on the tundra. The young are born with fur, which
is greyish-brown and blends into the surroundings.
Though the mother is attentive and remains close to her
young just after birth, she soon restricts her visits to
a brief one each day. She will visit them in order to nurse
them and she will do so once every 18 to 19 hours, for the
rest of the summer. The schedule is so precise that David
Gray's research team could plan in advance when to visit
a nursing spot in order to be sure to see the nursing event.
The young also know exactly when to show up, even though
the appointed time changes every day. Talk about a 'biological
As young hares grow, they begin to leave the nursing site
for short periods. A short time before the next feeding,
they will group together at the nursing site and huddle
together before the mother arrives. At first they will
huddle together for about an hour in advance, but the time
spent huddled together decreases as they age.
Young hares are weaned abruptly in late August, but they
continue to feed and rest together at least into September.
In areas with large populations, the young from different
litters sometimes gather into large groups. They develop
rapidly and by late autumn are almost indistinguishable
from the adults. We do not know if the young hares take
part in the spring breeding in their first year, or if
they reach sexual maturity only in time for their second
How long do wild Arctic hares live? We don't really know.
(We do know that the European hare, Lepus
europaeus, lives for a maximum of about 4 to 5 years
in the wild). An adult male hare that was tagged in July
1986 by David Gray's research team at Sverdrup Pass on
Ellesmere Island was still alive in August 1990. If the
hare had been born in the spring of 1985 (the latest time
possible), he would have been five years old in 1990.
Although predation is probably the main cause of death,
Arctic hares also may die in other ways. Though disease
does not normally seem to be a factor and Arctic animals
are relatively free of diseases, in times of stress and
high populations disease may become more widespread. Arctic
hares do suffer injuries during certain
social encounters and these injuries may, on occasion,
lead to death through weakness or infection. In the mountains,
rock falls or glacial ice falls may occasionally kill hares.