Snowshoe Hare (Varying Hare)
Pennsylvania Game Commission
Both names describe physical properties of Lepus americanus, the big hare of Pennsylvania’s north woods. “Varying” refers to its twice-a-year changes in pelt coloration; “hare” identifies it as a member of the genus Lepus, related to rabbits but different in several important ways; and “snowshoe” aptly describes the animal’s huge, furry hind feet, which help it travel over deep snow.
Although closely related to the more abundant cottontail, the snowshoe is not a true rabbit. A hare’s digestive tract differs structurally from that of a rabbit, and newborn hares are precocial (fairly well developed) in contrast to the hairless, blind cottontail young. Snowshoes are about 19 inches in length and weigh 3 to 5 pounds, with males generally 10 percent heavier than females. Their body configuration is similar to the cottontail’s, although the snowshoe has longer ears, larger feet and a rangier build. In summer, a snowshoe is dark – in winter, white. In the dark phase, its fur is gray-brown, darker on the rump and down the middle of the back, the throat buffy and the tail dark brown above and white beneath. In autumn, the dark hairs gradually fall out and white hairs replace them. This molt is irregular and might occur in patchwork fashion, but it usually begins on the feet and ears and works upward and toward the rear until the entire pelt is white (except the ear tips, which stay black). A complete change takes about 10,weeks. In spring, another molt occurs. This time, brown hairs replace white, starting with the head and back and ending with the ears and feet by late spring.