The Arctic hare is a heavyweight in the hare family. Adults weigh, on average, 4 to 5 kg (9 to 11 lb.), and they are longer than 70 cm (23 in.) from the nose to the tip of the tail. Females tend to be slightly bigger than males. Otherwise, males and females look so similar that they are difficult to tell apart at a distance. During the breeding season and the nursing period, males and females can be more easily identified by their behaviour.
The Arctic hare is a heavyweight in the hare family. Adults weigh, on average, 4 to 5 kg (9 to 11 lb.), and they are longer than 70 cm (23 in.) from the nose to the tip of the tail. Females tend to be slightly bigger than males. Otherwise, males and females look so similar that they are difficult to tell apart at a distance. During the breeding season and the nursing period, males and females can be more easily identified by their behaviour.

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

In winter, the fur of the Arctic hare is bright white, except for black tips on the ears. The white pelage blends perfectly with a snowy background. This security of camouflage probably accounts for their well-known lack of fear at this time of year, when they are often so tame that they can be approached very closely.

In mid-summer, when their camouflage is not as effective, Arctic hares are wary and difficult to approach. In the High Arctic, where summers are short (six to eight weeks), a sandy brown or grey wash appears on the nose, forehead and ears, and occasionally on the back. The predominant colour, however, remains the snowy white of winter, which makes High-Arctic Arctic hares starkly visible against a snow-free background and therefore more vulnerable to predators. In the more southern reaches of their range (including Baffin Island, Nunavut), where the summer is somewhat longer, the white coat changes to brown with blue-grey tones, while the tail and parts of the ears and legs remain white.

Young are born in June with mottled grey-brown fur. Their fur blends so well with the colours of the tundra that they are very difficult to see. By September, Read More
In winter, the fur of the Arctic hare is bright white, except for black tips on the ears. The white pelage blends perfectly with a snowy background. This security of camouflage probably accounts for their well-known lack of fear at this time of year, when they are often so tame that they can be approached very closely.

In mid-summer, when their camouflage is not as effective, Arctic hares are wary and difficult to approach. In the High Arctic, where summers are short (six to eight weeks), a sandy brown or grey wash appears on the nose, forehead and ears, and occasionally on the back. The predominant colour, however, remains the snowy white of winter, which makes High-Arctic Arctic hares starkly visible against a snow-free background and therefore more vulnerable to predators. In the more southern reaches of their range (including Baffin Island, Nunavut), where the summer is somewhat longer, the white coat changes to brown with blue-grey tones, while the tail and parts of the ears and legs remain white.

Young are born in June with mottled grey-brown fur. Their fur blends so well with the colours of the tundra that they are very difficult to see. By September, young are almost as white as adults but they retain a brown topknot.

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

Arctic Hare

An Arctic hare on Bathurst Island, Nunavut, in typical white summer fur

David R. Gray
Canadian Museum of Nature

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


Arctic Hare

An Arctic hare in summer on Rabbit Island, Nunavut, showing the white tail and legs.

David R. Gray
Canadian Museum of Nature

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


Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) do not hibernate. Instead, to survive the Arctic cold they rely on one key physical characteristic -- their fur -- as well as on special coping behaviours.

Arctic hares can be active all winter because of the insulating quality of their fur coat. A short, thick and warm under-fur is protected by the longer, silky top fur. A hare with fat for 20% of its body weight could live for 15 days at -24°C (11°F) on that stored fat alone because of this excellent insulation.

The time of shedding fur and the moulting patterns vary with latitude. Not much is known about the moulting pattern but it has been assumed that the annual moult starts in June. During his research at Sverdrup Pass on Ellesmere Island (now in Nunavut), biologist Dr. David Gray saw hares begin losing their winter coats in April, when temperatures still hover around -30°C (-22°F). Nursing females seem to moult later than other Arctic hares.

The black fur on the ear tips may be a way of keeping the sensitive ear tips warmer when the sun is shining. Black ear tips are common to many species of hares.
Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) do not hibernate. Instead, to survive the Arctic cold they rely on one key physical characteristic -- their fur -- as well as on special coping behaviours.

Arctic hares can be active all winter because of the insulating quality of their fur coat. A short, thick and warm under-fur is protected by the longer, silky top fur. A hare with fat for 20% of its body weight could live for 15 days at -24°C (11°F) on that stored fat alone because of this excellent insulation.

The time of shedding fur and the moulting patterns vary with latitude. Not much is known about the moulting pattern but it has been assumed that the annual moult starts in June. During his research at Sverdrup Pass on Ellesmere Island (now in Nunavut), biologist Dr. David Gray saw hares begin losing their winter coats in April, when temperatures still hover around -30°C (-22°F). Nursing females seem to moult later than other Arctic hares.

The black fur on the ear tips may be a way of keeping the sensitive ear tips warmer when the sun is shining. Black ear tips are common to many species of hares.

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

The hind feet are padded with a heavy, slightly yellowish brush of thick and coarse fur. Arctic hares have five toes with claws on the front feet and four toes with smaller claws on the hind feet.
The hind feet are padded with a heavy, slightly yellowish brush of thick and coarse fur. Arctic hares have five toes with claws on the front feet and four toes with smaller claws on the hind feet.

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

Arctic Hare

Side view of an Arctic hare.

David R. Gray
Canadian Museum of Nature

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


Arctic hares have 28 teeth. There are four incisors at the front of the upper jaw, and on each side, a gap and six grinding teeth. On the bottom, the two incisors on the front are flanked on each side by a gap and five grinding teeth. The two larger incisors on the top are supported and strengthened by two smaller peg-like incisors behind. This trait is common to all lagomorphs.
Arctic hares have 28 teeth. There are four incisors at the front of the upper jaw, and on each side, a gap and six grinding teeth. On the bottom, the two incisors on the front are flanked on each side by a gap and five grinding teeth. The two larger incisors on the top are supported and strengthened by two smaller peg-like incisors behind. This trait is common to all lagomorphs.

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

Skull and Jaw

This skull and jaws are shown on a photo of the head of a hare in order to give you an idea of their position in the head. The bones came from an Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) that was caught in a fox trap in 1949 at Mould Bay, Prince Patrick Island, Northwest Territories.

Canadian Museum of Nature

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


Upper incisors

This close-up of the upper incisors of an Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) show their unusual arrangement, which distinguishes hares from rodents.

Canadian Museum of Nature

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


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • describe some characteristics of the arctic hare;
  • comment on the benefits of arctic hare fur;
  • demonstrate that they understand why the fur of the arctic hare changes color.

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