White rabbits live in Antarctica

Master of adaptation: the mountain hare

Where does the mountain hare live? What is he eating? How does he survive the winter? Not many mammals are adapted to such difficult conditions as the mountain hare. Here's how he survived the freezing winter.

Habitat and distribution area

The mountain hare can be found in large areas of cold, northern regions such as Scandinavia and Siberia. Unlike other rabbit species, it does not live in underground caves, but mainly above ground. Depending on the season, it feeds on grasses, herbs, buds, tree bark or roots. The mountain hare has many natural enemies to fear. Depending on the region, they include foxes, martens, lynxes and birds of prey.

A mountain hare population can also be found in the Alps, i.e. a group of animals that live and reproduce here. However, these mountain hares have no contact with other mountain hares in the north of Europe and Russia. They immigrated to the Alps during the last ice age. When the ice retreated and it became warmer in lower areas (too warm for mountain hares), they stayed in the Alps and can no longer get to the animals in the northern populations (such a separated population is also called an "ice age relic").

Variety of colors

The name says it all: the mountain hare has a snow-white fur. The fur on the tips of the ears is typically black. The mountain hare is not always white, but shows a variety of fur colors, depending on the season and region. In areas where the snow melts away in summer, the mountain hare swaps its white winter fur for a brown summer fur, which is better adapted to the summer environment. During the transition period between spring and autumn, rabbits with a white-brown spotted fur can be spotted. Depending on how long the winter lasts, the mountain hare wears its winter or summer fur for different lengths of time. In regions where the snow never completely melts away, the mountain hare does not change its winter fur and remains white all year round. Thanks to this large variation in coat colors, the mountain hare can optimally adapt to its surroundings.

Did you know that not only the mountain hare but also the ptarmigan can change color and adapt to the environment in every season of the year? Image: CanStockPhoto

Further adjustments

The shape of the legs and ears is also adapted to the cooler living conditions. If you compare z. B. the mountain hare with the brown hare, which lives in warmer regions of Switzerland, the legs and ears of the mountain hare are significantly shorter. So their surface is smaller and the heat loss through the skin is significantly lower. This is beneficial in cold regions where heat storage is extremely important to survival.

The paws of the mountain hare are more hairy in winter than in summer, which has two advantages for the hare. On the one hand, the paws are better protected from the cold, and on the other hand, they can walk better over the snow without sinking in. In addition, the mountain hare can spread its toes to make the area of ​​the paws larger. So they work in a similar way to snowshoes!

The mountain hare also adjusts its foraging so as not to consume too much energy in winter. He moves less far and only looks for food in the closer vicinity. In order to fully utilize the food, it digests it in the appendix for the first time, excretes it as damp excrement and eats this excrement again. During this second digestion, the well-known, dry balls of rabbit droppings are produced (by the way, domestic rabbits do the same).

Tracks in the snow

Life in the snow is not easy. In addition to the cold, the snow also poses a major problem: you leave traces. These are extremely useful for the enemies of the mountain hare, such as the fox, because they lead directly to their prey. Here, too, the mountain hare has adapted. To confuse the enemy, he runs back on his own tracks, and makes great leaps in between to break the tracks.

A true survivor

These examples show how the mountain hare has optimally adapted to its difficult living conditions. A combination of physical characteristics and special behavior makes the mountain hare a true survivor.