The total number of Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) in Canada has never been estimated. Also, biologists have not determined whether Arctic hare populations fluctuate in a common cycle of low and high numbers, as do snowshoe hares farther south.
The total number of Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) in Canada has never been estimated. Also, biologists have not determined whether Arctic hare populations fluctuate in a common cycle of low and high numbers, as do snowshoe hares farther south.

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.

Because we don't know or understand enough about their movements in and out of certain areas of the northern islands, we can't estimate their actual numbers, even though many herds of more than 100 individuals have been documented. Personnel at the weather station at Eureka (in Nunavut), reported herds of hundreds or even thousands of hares milling about near the station in the 1970s and 1980s, but such numbers have not been seen in recent years. Groups of hundreds seen in the 1980s in Quttinirpaaq National Park on northern Ellesmere Island have also been missing recently.

The importance of Arctic hares is growing, in light of increasing Arctic tourism and continued traditional hunting by northerners. Highly visible, they are a popular feature in many parks and protected areas in the Arctic. Ellesmere Island's Quttinirpaaq National Park is perhaps the only place in the world where Arctic hares are a major attraction for photographers and 'extreme' tourists.
Because we don't know or understand enough about their movements in and out of certain areas of the northern islands, we can't estimate their actual numbers, even though many herds of more than 100 individuals have been documented. Personnel at the weather station at Eureka (in Nunavut), reported herds of hundreds or even thousands of hares milling about near the station in the 1970s and 1980s, but such numbers have not been seen in recent years. Groups of hundreds seen in the 1980s in Quttinirpaaq National Park on northern Ellesmere Island have also been missing recently.

The importance of Arctic hares is growing, in light of increasing Arctic tourism and continued traditional hunting by northerners. Highly visible, they are a popular feature in many parks and protected areas in the Arctic. Ellesmere Island's Quttinirpaaq National Park is perhaps the only place in the world where Arctic hares are a major attraction for photographers and 'extreme' tourists.

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.

Arctic Hare

A large herd of Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) at Eureka, Nunavut.

Image credits: Lowell De Mond
Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


On the island of Newfoundland, Arctic hares have likely never been numerous. Restricted to the open barrens and alpine mountain areas, they are one of the province's most-threatened native mammals and few people have seen them. They are classified as 'uncommon' in the 2004 provincial conservation scheme. Parks Canada considers them 'rare' on the island and some biologists suggest that they are endangered.

In Gros Morne National Park, Arctic hares are a key species and their numbers are closely monitored. Estimates by Parks Canada put the number of Arctic hares in the Park at 870 in 2000, up from an estimate of 230 in 1997. It is assumed that the Arctic hare population on the island goes through a cycle of lows and highs.

In the 1970s, six Arctic hares were captured in southern Newfoundland and Labrador and released on Brunette Island off Newfoundland's south coast. They survived and bred and the population grew to more than 1000 hares. A program of capture, breeding and release of hares into their former range on the province's Avalon Peninsula was undertaken in the 1980s, but none of the releases led to a successful breeding population.
On the island of Newfoundland, Arctic hares have likely never been numerous. Restricted to the open barrens and alpine mountain areas, they are one of the province's most-threatened native mammals and few people have seen them. They are classified as 'uncommon' in the 2004 provincial conservation scheme. Parks Canada considers them 'rare' on the island and some biologists suggest that they are endangered.

In Gros Morne National Park, Arctic hares are a key species and their numbers are closely monitored. Estimates by Parks Canada put the number of Arctic hares in the Park at 870 in 2000, up from an estimate of 230 in 1997. It is assumed that the Arctic hare population on the island goes through a cycle of lows and highs.

In the 1970s, six Arctic hares were captured in southern Newfoundland and Labrador and released on Brunette Island off Newfoundland's south coast. They survived and bred and the population grew to more than 1000 hares. A program of capture, breeding and release of hares into their former range on the province's Avalon Peninsula was undertaken in the 1980s, but none of the releases led to a successful breeding population.

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.

Arctic Hare

A brown Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) in summer on Brunette Island, in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Image credits: Con Finlay
Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Most of the hare featured on this page were ear-tagged at Sverdrup Pass, Ellesmere Island, in Nunavut, during David Gray's studies of Arctic hare behaviour. Each became known to the research team, earning nick-names and providing opportunities for laughter as well as useful data.
Most of the hare featured on this page were ear-tagged at Sverdrup Pass, Ellesmere Island, in Nunavut, during David Gray's studies of Arctic hare behaviour. Each became known to the research team, earning nick-names and providing opportunities for laughter as well as useful data.

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.

Arctic Hare

Bun was an important part of camp life at the Canadian Museum of Nature's High Arctic Research Station on Bathurst Island in spring of 1974. She adapted the presence of researchers into her daily routine and showed no fear at their close approach. Bun accompanied people on walks around camp and was once even coaxed to ride on a toboggan! Bun was an important factor in David Gray's decision to study Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) behaviour in future years.

Image credits: George Reynolds
Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Arctic Hare

Blue Bun was the first Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) equipped with 'real' ear tags by David Gray's research team. Blue Bun became partial to the dried apples used for bait and regularly chased others away from traps so that he could get caught again. First caught in 1985, he was also seen in spring the next year. Not seen after that, his antics were missed!

Image credits: David R. Gray
Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Arctic Hare

None of the Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) tagged by David Gray at Sverdrup Pass on Ellesmere Island was seen outside the study areas, with the exception of this female, Fast Green. She was seen once 12 km away from where she was captured and tagged.

Image credits: David A. Gill
Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Arctic Hare

Pretty Green was a mother Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) who taught the biologists much about the raising of young hares, from near-birth to weaning. She was tagged in mid July and the team recorded the daily suckling of her young throughout July and August. The last suckle was on August 21, 1986, and she was late for the first time. At the expected time and place of the next suckling, only the young hares and the biologist showed up!

Image Credits: David R. Gray
Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Arctic Hare

Almost two years after he was tagged, Red Rump finally revealed himself as a male by doing a penis display. He was tagged as an adult in July 1986 and was last seen in August 1990, making him the longest survivor of all the Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) tagged by David Gray's research team. If he was born in 1985, he was five years old when last seen, establishing the record for longevity in wild Arctic hares.

Image Credits: David R. Gray
Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Arctic Hare

Scarface was a male Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) that could be easily identified by the prominent scars on his nose and face. One of only two males seen in the late winter of 1987, Scarface became the focus of David Gray's research that year.

Image credits: David R. Gray
Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2004, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The student will be able to:
  • name the places in Canada where we can find populations of arctic hares;
  • discuss the movement of the populations of arctic hares;
  • appreciate the relationship between the researcher and the object of study (the arctic hare).

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