Citius, Altius, Fortius

Snowshoe Hare summer coat image courtesy US National Parks Service
Snowshoe Hare Summer Coat
Courtesy US National Parks Service

Snowshoe Hare winter coat image courtesy US Forest Service http://www.fs.fed.us Snowshoe Hare Winter Coat
Courtesy USDA Forest Service

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University

The upcoming winter Olympics in Sochi bring back fond memories of Utah’s stint as host of the winter games. You may recall that “Powder,” a playful snowshoe hare was among Salt Lake City’s three Olympic mascots. Powder represented “faster” in the Olympic triumvirate (try-um-virate) motto of “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (or Faster, Higher Stronger). And the little snowshoe hare needs to be fast. For according to USU wildlife biologist Dustin Ranglack Snowshoe hares are the Snickers bars of the forest. They’re a popular treat for a host of carnivores, including coyotes, foxes, lynx, bobcats, bears and birds of prey.

Hares are fast in general. They can reach 40 miles per hour, and can leap more than ten feet (three meters). But this hare has extra-large, wide feet with more fur and larger toes. Like permanent snowshoes, these feet are ideally suited for racing from predators in deep mountain snow.

In spite of its speed, the snowshoe hare’s best mechanism of defense is camouflage. In winter, its soft, fine fur turns white to blend into the snowy terrain. As spring thaws the wintry landscape, the hare’s fur turns brown or reddish-brown to help it elude predators. Only the tips of the ears remain dark throughout the year.

Scientists have observed that climate change may affect the survival of animals that undergo seasonal coat color changes. For example, with a shortened winter, a white-coated snowshoe hare is a sitting duck on brown earth in full view of ravenous predators.

But interestingly there is already a lot of variability in the timing of individual hares camouflaged coat. Amount of sunlight may start the color change in a snowshoe hare population. But once the process starts, the timing of full coat transformation — which can take up to two months — is unique. Perhaps this is due to the fact that—even before climate change– there was always been some variability in the onset of winter snow cover. Anyway, this variability in color change gives scientists hope that the snowshoe hare will be able to adapt its timing to seasonal changes in the future.
For sources and pictures go to WWW.wildaboututah.org.

For the Quinney College of Natural Resources, I’m Holly Strand

Credits:

Images: Courtesy US Forest Service and US National Parks Service

Text: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Holly Strand, Quinney College of Natural Resources

Sources & Additional Reading

Snowshoe Hare Lepus Americanus, National Geographic, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/snowshoe-hare.html

Mills, L. Scott, Marketa Zimovaa, Jared Oylerb, Steven Runningb, John T. Abatzoglouc, and Paul M. Lukacsa. 2013 Camouflage mismatch in seasonal coat color due to decreased snow duration. PNAS. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/04/10/1222724110#aff-1

Rossner, Hillary. 2012. The Color of Bunny: Can snowshoe hares outrace climate change? Feb. 6, 2012. High Country News. http://www.hcn.org/issues/44.2/can-snowshoe-hares-adapt-to-climate-change

Pygmy Rabbits

Pygmy Rabbit
Brachylagus idahoesis
Courtesy & Copyright 2007 Len Zeoli

Pygmy rabbits!! Sure, like there’s these little rabbits running around out there, and nobody’s seen them. Right!

Well pygmy rabbits do exist and they’re cute as a button. They are found living it up in sagebrush from Utah north into Idaho and west to California. They eat sagebrush year-round but to fight monotony, they add a few forbs and grasses during spring, summer and fall.

Pygmy rabbits look like cottontails, but different. There’s no conspicuous white fluff ball on their tail. The fur is more slate gray than the pale gray of the desert cottontail. The pygmy rabbit is dinky, with significantly smaller ears and weighing less than a pound. Pygmy rabbits favor dense stands of big sagebrush, sometimes near riparian areas. Based on Val Grant’s experience they can also be found in sparse sagebrush and well away from water.

These rabbits are not as easy to see as they are to identify by their sign: fecal pellets, browse patterns and mobility patterns in snow. When you’re out in sagebrush, check the ground under a sage plant. If you see small piles of pellets the size of BBs, you may be onto the wily pygmy. They dig burrows beneath the sage plants and frequently fresh pellets are found at the entrance. The sage branch tips will show distinct browsing on the new growth. In winter, launching pads used by pygmy rabbits are a sure way to identify their presence. Rather than frolic through the snow like cottontails and jackrabbits, leaving a distinct trail, these little guys leap from pad to pad when traveling across the snow during the winter. This adds skiers and snowshoers to the list of observers who should be on the lookout for these diminutive rabbits with a big appetite for sagebrush.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Credits:

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright 2007 Len Zeoli

Text: Val Grant, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Pygmy Rabbit, The Rabbits Archive, http://www.rabbitsarchive.com/species/pygmy-rabbit.php

Pygmy rabbit pictures and facts, http://thewebsiteofeverything.com/animals/mammals/Lagomorpha/Leporidae/Brachylagus/Brachylagus-idahoensis.html

Endangered Rabbit Beats the Odds, College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, Washington State University, http://cahnrsnews.wsu.edu/2007/06/13/endangered-rabbit-beats-the-odds/

Pygmy rabbit, mondo adorable, L.A. Unleashed, LA Times Local, February 8, 2009, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/unleashed/2009/02/pygmy-rabbit.html

Pygmy Rabbits, Western Watersheds Project, http://www.westernwatersheds.org/wildlife/pygmy-rabbits

Pygmy Rabbit, Donnely Lewis, http://dcaendangeredspecies.wikispaces.com/Pygmy+Rabbit+by+Donnely+Lewis

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare Summer Coat
Courtesy US National Parks Service

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

The approach (opening) of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver brings back fond memories of Utah’s stint as host of the winter games back in 2002. Many Utahns will recall that among Salt Lake’s three Olympics mascots was “Powder,” a playful snowshoe hare.

Powder represented “faster” in Salt Lake’s triumvirate motto of “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (Faster, Higher Stronger) and the description is apt for the nimble mammal that owes much of its survival to its comically large feet.

USU wildlife biologist Dustin Ranglack says the snowshoe hare’s feet are ideally suited for racing from predators in deep mountain snow. “Snowshoe hares are known as the ‘Snickers bars of the forest’ because they’re a popular treat for a host of carnivores, including coyotes, foxes, lynx, bobcats, bears and birds of prey.”

Ranglack notes that the hare, which he describes as “the cutest bunny rabbit you’ve ever seen,” sports another defensive trait that serves the animal well: its distinctive camouflage coat. In winter, the hare’s soft, fine fur turns white to blend into the snowy terrain. As spring thaws the wintry landscape, the hare’s fur turns brown to help it elude predators.

Snowshoe Hare Winter Coat
Courtesy USDA Forest Service

Coupled with its prolific breeding habits, the snowshoe appears to have a robust arsenal of defenses as it feeds at night following well-worn forest paths to feast on trees, shrubs, grasses and plants. Yet scientists observe that climate change may disrupt photo cycles that keep the color of hares’ fur in sync with its surrounding landscape. A white hare may end up sitting on brown earth in full view of ravenous predators, upsetting the delicate balance of advantage.

“The hares are fast, yes, but their best mechanism of defense is camouflage,” Ranglack says.

Thanks to Mary-Ann Muffoletto and Utah State University College of Natural Resources for supporting the development of this Wild About Utah program.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.
Credits:

Images: Courtesy US Forest Service and US National Parks Service

Text:     Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading

Dustin Ranglack, USU Department of Wildland Resources http://www.usu.edu/ust/index.cfm?article=35951

Huang, Lilly. “The Case of the Disappearing Rabbit,” Newsweek, July 25, 2009.http://www.newsweek.com/id/208445

Snowshoe Hare Lepus Americanus, National Geographic, http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/snowshoe-hare.html