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Mountain Hare: Facts, Lifespan, Behavior & Care Guide (With Pictures)

Ashley Bates

Mountain hares are native to the U.K., more common in Scotland’s highlands than across the country’s lower half. They are also found in tundra areas of northern and eastern Europe, having a similar spread to their close cousins, the Arctic hare, or Lepus articus. Mountain hares are typically seen as solitary animals because they feed in areas with relatively sparse vegetation.

Mountain hares, similar to most hares, are quite a bit larger than rabbits. They are smaller than brown hares and have markedly shorter ears.

These hares have a coat that changes color with the season. They are a stunning white color during the winter and brown/grey during the summer. They have darker tips on the top of their ears and sometimes on their feet. Their long-ish tails stay white throughout the year.divider-rabbitpaw1

Quick Facts about the Mountain Hare

Species Name: Lepus timidus
Family: Leporidae
Care Level: Moderate
Temperament: Edgy
Color Form: Winter: White, Blue/Grey; Summer: Brown/Grey
Lifespan: 3-4 years
Size: 1.7 ft; 6.8 lbs.
Diet: Herbivores
Minimum Enclosure Size: 24 square feet
Enclosure Set-Up: 8’x8’ living area, 24’x24’ exercise space
Compatibility: Low

Mountain Hare Overview

Mountain hares are an iconic upland species, most well-known for their camouflage. They are also called the “blue hare” because they have a bluish undercoat that keeps them warm year-round.

These hares are not domesticated animals and are not kept as pets because it is too difficult to give them everything they need to survive as pets.

Mountain hares used to have a more widespread distribution than they do currently. The Romans introduced the brown hare to the U.K. hundreds of years ago. Following this, the mountain hares were pushed into the uplands.

They are hardier than brown hares and can feed on tougher heather and other plants typical to moorland areas. Brown hares are more aggressive toward other species and will push out other beneficial and native species in the lowlands that they inhabit.

There were attempts to reintroduce the mountain hare populations across a more extensive range of the Scottish Highlands and the rest of the British uplands. However, these populations have largely died out. The core populations remain in the Highlands, an established community in the Southern Uplands of England and a final and small one in the Peak District.

Even with the decrease in the mountain hares’ overall population, the animal is still classed with a conservation status of “Least Concern.”

How Much Do Mountain Hares Cost?

Mountain hares are not bought, sold, or reproduced as domesticated animals, so there is little chance of finding one on sale. Due to this, we do not have an estimate of what a domesticated or wild mountain hare would typically cost.

Typical Behavior & Temperament

Social organization among mountain hares is a fascinating aspect of their behavioral patterns. It stands out as a rare example of a female-dominated system. During times of the year in which it is common for them to reproduce, multiple males in their community attempt to copulate with a single female simultaneously. Doing so often results in fighting among males.

The mountain hare is a nocturnal animal. They often take over burrows left behind by other animals. On rare occasions, they might dig their own burrows with their large front paws.

Mountain hares typically only spend time around burrows after giving birth, but only the leverets live in the burrows. The mothers will sit and watch at the opening.

Adult hares are wanderers who spend their days resting in a small depression in the ground or snow to get out of high winds. These depressions are called “forms.” They don’t stay with the same form but tend to abandon them after short rest periods. They only sleep for minutes at a time and spend the rest of their time awake, carefully grooming or scavenging.

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Credit: polandeze, Commons Wikimedia

Appearance & Varieties

Since mountain hares have never been bred for domestic purposes, there are not many varieties of colors. Instead, they change color twice throughout the year in colder climates for survival purposes. In warmer temperatures, mountain hares remain brown with off-white underbellies and paws all year.

If temperatures drop low enough to snow during the winter, the rabbit will shed its outer layer of brown fur and grow a stark white coat similar to the arctic hare. They have point markings on their ears, around their eyes, and on their feet. These are often mottled brown spots on the feet, black on the ears, and white rings around their eyes.divider-carrots

How to Take Care of a Mountain Hare

Mountain hares are rarely, if ever, kept as pets. There is little information about how to keep them as such. Some mountain hares are kept in zoos around the world, such as the Munich Zoo in Germany.

If they live in a manmade enclosure, they need to live in an enclosed area of at least 24 by 24 feet square. This space is used for exercise and to encourage their instinctual wandering habits. Mountain hares that live in these kinds of enclosures often have dramatically different lives because their natural lifestyle is so altered.

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Credit: Bouke ten Cate, Commons Wikimedia

Do Mountain Hares Get Along With Other Pets?

Mountain hares are prey to many of the larger animals in their high climatic regions. They are a “prey animal” on the animal food chain’s hierarchy and provide a rich source of food for predators like wildcats and eagles.

Mountain hares are individualistic creatures that spend most of their time in solitude. They do not even live with other members of their family or community, only coming together during certain times of the year to reproduce.

Leverets grow quickly. When they are only 2 weeks old, they can begin eating vegetation. Around 5 weeks old, they come out of the burrow and feed with their mother. In the case of mountain hares, this is also usually when they will go their own ways.

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What to Feed Your Mountain Hare

The mountain hare diet has adapted slightly over the past century to live in their current environment happily. These hares feed primarily on leaves, heather, twigs, and grasses that grow in the U.K.’s uplands.

Male_Irish_mountain_hare-Commons wikimedia
Credit: AlanWolfe, Commons Wikimedia

The overall diet of the Lepus timidus varies by region, habitat, and season. It is during the summer that hares living in the forest primarily eat twigs and leaves. Tundra-dwelling hares eat sparse alpine plants. In times of drought or hardship, they have also been seen eating grass, bark, and lichen.

During the winter, heather is the principal source of food when most other plants and lichens are buried under snow.

Keeping Your Mountain Hare Healthy

Mountain hares living in the tundra’s higher regions have fewer predators and more camouflage ability than their other hare family members. In the wild, they live 3 to 4 years as an average.

In captivity, they have varying lifespans. Since they are less hunted by predators, they have an easier life. However, their nomadic lifestyle is so changed in captivity that they sometimes live shorter lives.

Breeding

Reproduction typically does not happen within the first year of a hare’s life. Once they reach maturity, females can have one or two litters in a year, with one to five young being born. If breeding occurs early in the spring of the year, three litters could happen.

Interestingly, the litter’s size has been found to correlate with the size of the mother directly.

The breeding season for the mountain hare is January to September. Their gestation varies between 47 to 54 days.divider-multipet

Are Mountain Hares Suitable for You?

Mountain hares are fiercely independent and skittish animals. There is currently no record of a mountain hare being tamed to be a pet, since it would be such a challenge. If you are looking for a similar animal type to keep as a pet, it is better to opt for a domesticated rabbit instead of a creature better left in the wild.


Featured image credit: AlanWolfe, Commons Wikimedia

Ashley Bates

Ashley Bates is a freelance dog writer and pet enthusiast who is currently studying the art of animal therapy. A mother to four human children— and 23 furry and feathery kids, too – Ashley volunteers at local shelters, advocates for animal well-being, and rescues every creature she finds. Her mission is to create awareness, education, and entertainment about pets to prevent homelessness. Her specialties are cats and dogs.