Hares are members of the Lepus genus, and are close relatives of rabbits. In fact, these animals are often mistaken for one another. However, hares generally have longer, larger ears and longer limbs; and are often larger than rabbits. Hares are born with their eyes open and with hair; unlike rabbits, which are born blind and naked. Their diet varies according to location and season, but all hares eat a few similar things.
Hares are found in forests, tundra and grasslands, and feed on the plant material available. Several species of hare, especially the European or brown hare, have established themselves as invasives in distant regions like New Zealand and Patagonia. Hares often compete with native species for food in these areas, and may be considered pets.
Hares are herbivores. According to Acta Zoologica Academiae Scientarium Hungaricae, they prefer a habitat with a varied food supply made up of many different kinds of plants. Hares generally prefer to consume wild species over cultivated ones. They spend much of their time grazing on grasses. According to the European Journal of Wildlife Research, Iberian hare diets are made up of about 70 per cent grass. Hares also consume shrubs, seeds and herbaceous plants.
Like rabbits, hares practice coprophagia--eating their own waste. Their digestive tracts are not complex enough to extract all the nutrition from grasses and leaves the first time the food passes through. Half-digested food is excreted as pellets, consumed and re-digested. After the second digestion period, hares excrete normal faeces, which they do not re-consume.
Seasonal availability affects the diet of hares all over the world. According to the European Journal of Wildlife Research, Iberian hares eat around 55 per cent grass in the summer, making the rest of their diet up from other types of plants. In winter, grass percentage increases to more than 80 per cent. The New Zealand Ecological Society notes that European hares prefer Poa grasses in summer, but eat more snow grass in winter. After snowfalls, when little else is available, hares will also eat small trees and bushes.
While hares prefer a varied diet of wild species, they will consume cultivated species and single foods in areas planted with monocultures. Hare diets vary the most in natural pasture land, and the least in cultivated areas, though wild species are preferred in most cases. According to Acta Zoologica Academiae Scientarium Hungaricae, hares eat alfalfa and wheat more readily than rapeseed, corn, sunflower, sugar beet or other agricultural crops.
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Family Leporidae
- Science Direct: Mammalian Biology -- Zeitschruft fur Saugetierunde: Diet of the brown hare (Lepus europaeus) and food availability in northern Patagonia (Mendoza, Argentina)
- New Zealand Ecological Society: Hare Numbers and Diet in an Alpine Basin in New Zealand
- Acta Zoologica Academiae Scientarium Hungaricae: Spatial, Temporal and Individual Variability in the Autumn Diet of European Hare (Lepus Europaeus) in Hungary