Right out of a Magician’s Hat
February 21, 2011
Yesterday as I was skiing up Brackett Creek, a snowshoe hare spastically crossed the trail directly in front of me. Considering how many hare tracks I have seen off the trail, I probably have passed by multiple snowshoe hares sitting stock still under a fir tree but failed to see them because they are white and so is snow. This was the first one I have seen up at Bohart and as I said, it was running across the trail in the helter-skelter manner of hares so it was hard to miss.
Snowshoe hares are one of the cool animal species that actually change color between winter and summer. Because hair is a dead tissue, however, the actual color of each hare hair (ha!) does not change color. Instead, the hare has to shed its entire coat and grow a new one every fall and spring. The new coat color is induced by hormones reacting to the changing light conditions and changing the biochromes in the hare’s hair cells (I just can’t help myself). Luckily this can happen gradually or else we would have some hairless hares running around. As it is, it takes the hares 10 weeks to fully change color. Hopefully there are some snow patches in those 10 weeks on the front and tail end of winter, or the hairy camouflage of hares can work against them.
Despite their very cool adaptation for avoiding being eaten, snowshoe hares are an important prey species for pretty much every northern predator. Because of their population cycles, they and their mortal enemies, the canada lynx, are the classic example of predator-prey population dynamics. They are also animals who know how to pick the best habitats – snowy and northern with a good dose of elevation thrown in.
Unfortunately, in honor of my birthday last week I have to admit that I, like the hare, have some white hairs growing in. Maybe it just means that in 10 years I will be super sneaky around the trails in winter.