Crawlies with Cri: Snowshoe hare

As winter hops slowly into spring, it seems appropriate to meet a crawly this week that changes along with the seasons. Meet the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus).
If you’ve never seen a snowshoe hare, it’s only in part due to their wicked good camouflage skills. They aren’t common in Oregon. They can be found in roughly three areas: the far northwest corner, along the Cascades and in the far northeast corner.
Snowshoe hares are mostly found in Canada, but there are U.S. populations in the northernmost states and down the Cascades, the Rockies and the Appalachian Mountains.
There are only 134 recorded sightings of snowshoe hares in Oregon logged on iNaturalist, so those big old rabbit’s feet are indeed bringing you lots of good luck if you spot one of these snowy hoppers.
Your best bet to see one in real life is to keep your eyes peeled when visiting Diamond Lake and/or Crater Lake areas any time of the year.
Snowshoe hares’ big, fluffy back feet make them look large, but they are the smallest Oregon species in their genus (which also includes black-tailed and white-tailed jackrabbits).
How small are they? They are about 20 inches long with teeny two-inch tails. They max out at around three pounds. By comparison, black-tailed jackrabbits can grow up to 25 inches in length and can weigh up to six pounds!
Snowshoes are closer in appearance and size to mountain cottontails (Genus Sylvilagus) than they are to their closer hare relations. Their snowshoe feet are the tell though.
Fun fact: Not all Oregon snowshoe hares change color. Those in the northwest are forever brown. Individuals in the northeast range and some in the Cascades go winter white.
Snowshoes are on the menu for a variety of predators; coyote, wolf, bobcat, lynx, fox, fisher, marten and several hawk and owl species. So their seasonal camo color change is key for their survival.
Fun fact: The tips of the snowshoes’ ears remain black even when they don their winter white.
You’ll have better luck spotting a snowshoe hare some years than others. Snowshoe hare populations cycle in 8-to-11-year periods. While it’s not precisely known what causes these rises and falls in population, scientists believe they center on food limitation, patterns of predation, and links between food supply and predation. You’re mostly likely to see snowshoes at dawn or dusk. The pictured brown hare was hanging out at 7:15 p.m. in mid-June.
Snowshoes have a varied diet which allows them to survive winter snow. In spring and summer, they eat succulent vegetation and in winter, slender twigs, buds and bark. They have also been known to nibble on the frozen carcasses of other animals and sometimes eat their own droppings, which provide them with extra nutrition.
Because snowshoes are rabbits, they have a long mating season, running from February through July and can have three or four litters per year. Sadly, most snowshoes don’t even survive their first year, but the lucky ones can live up to five years in the wild.
Final fun fact: One way to find snowshoes is to look for uniformly chewed vegetation. They browse heavily on plants and often leave behind well-defined browse-lines (often referred to as “hare lines”).