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The aggressive mating madness of March hares

Posted in Animals, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 30 April 2012

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This edited article about the hare originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 697 published on 24 May 1975.

March hares, picture, image, illustration

March hares sparring to impress their future mate by R B Davis

A Solitary hawthorn tree stands, stunted and deformed by the cold easterly winds that blow with bitter force across the deserted landscape. The quiet and peaceful scene is suddenly disturbed as, one by one, a group of brown animals emerge from their hiding places among the long grass. Gradually, the creatures assemble into pairs and groups. Seconds later, standing upright on their hind legs, the animals being to fight one another.

The annual boxing match of the British hare has begun. Across wild, open spaces, on downs or flat marshlands, brown hares can be seen performing their seemingly insane antics, grunting, kicking, bucking, boxing and racing at full speed in the March madness of their springtime mating games.

Few animals can show the delight of motion better than the hare. March is the month to watch these fascinating creatures for, during the rest of the year they are nocturnal, cautious, creatures which stay crouched in their resting places in thickets of gorse and briars all day.

The hare does not burrow like the rabbit or find refuge from its enemies underground. It makes a slight depression in the long grass, known as a from, where its russet brown coat blends in with its surroundings, and there it will stay, watchful and alert, ready to rely on its speed of movement when disturbed by danger.

It will emerge at dusk to feed, tearing off bark from trees, munching on plants, grain and roots to satisfy its hunger. At dawn it returns to the form to rest.

The doe, or female, gives birth to three or four litters a year. The young are born about 42 days after mating and, though she builds no special nursery for them, the doe will make sure that the form in which she will give birth to her young is large and comfortable.

In each litter there are two, three or four young, born with their eyes open, and they are covered with short furry hair. The leverets, as they are called, are capable of using their legs straight away and each one, with the help of its mother, builds its own separate form.

The doe visits each in turn to feed them and uses the same leaping movement which all hares use whenever they leave or return to their forms. To break the continuity of her scent trail, and thereby ward off any enemies that may be lying in wait to follow her, she will suddenly turn at right angles from her path and make a huge leap of five metres or more to the top of a bank. She will then take another long bound, perhaps into marshy ground where the scent will not lie, and then continue on her way to the young, secure in the knowledge that she will not be followed by a fox or polecat.

The doe is a perfect mother to her young and will fight savagely to defend them from danger. But as soon as they are capable of looking after themselves, which is usually by the time they are about one month old, she will cast them off or desert them.

By that time, the leverets have grown their adult, russet brown fur. The males or Jacks, will not grow as large as the females; their heads will be shorter and their shoulders redder, too.

Like all hares, their coats will begin to moult twice a year. The spring moult begins in February and lasts until June or July. And soon after that moult is finished, the autumn moult will begin.

The leverets soon learn to sense danger by using their excellent eyesight and sense of hearing. They will even be able to run as fast as their parents because their legs develop very quickly. They learn, too, the warning signals which hares use when an enemy is prowling about. Whenever danger threatens, they will thump their hind legs on the ground very quickly to warn all the other hares in the area to run away.

By the time they are about a month old, the leverets have learned how to protect themselves. No longer cared for, defended or fed by their mother, the young hares have to rely on their own wits to survive. By the time spring arrives, they are well able to join in the fun and games with the adults, and become as mad as every other March hare.

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