The habitat of the Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) is generally restricted to treeless areas, north of the treeline in the tundra of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, and in the treeless barrens in the mountains of Newfoundland and Labrador. Hares survive best in areas without deep snow cover. Vegetation in the form of willows, shrubs, flowering plants and grasses is a requirement. Hares seem to prefer drier areas, avoiding wet meadows on the tundra.
The habitat of the Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) is generally restricted to treeless areas, north of the treeline in the tundra of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, and in the treeless barrens in the mountains of Newfoundland and Labrador. Hares survive best in areas without deep snow cover. Vegetation in the form of willows, shrubs, flowering plants and grasses is a requirement. Hares seem to prefer drier areas, avoiding wet meadows on the tundra.

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

Arctic Hare

Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) habitat on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, consists of scattered clumps of vegetation in dry areas with limited areas of concentrated wet sedge and grass meadows.

Photo: David R. Gray
Canadian Museum of Nature

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


Arctic Hare

An Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) in habitat typical of its range in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Photo: Con Finlay
Canadian Museum of Nature

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


The climate of the northern islands is the most severe of that encountered by Arctic hares.
In the summer of the Far North, June, July and August are characterized by snow-free ground, growth and flowering of plants, the presence of breeding birds, 24 hours of sunlight and average temperatures of 0°C to 5°C (32°F to 41°F). September and October bring the autumnal end of 24 hours of sunlight; the first snow cover; freeze-up of ponds, lakes and the Arctic ocean; and temperatures of -30°C to 0°C (-22°F to 32°F). The sun sets in early November and remains below the horizon for 3 months. Wintry December-to-March features more snow, lots of wind, and temperatures of -40°C to -30°C (-40°F to -22°F). The sun rises again in early February, and the number of hours it is above the horizon increases steadily through March. April sees the spring start of 24 hours of sunlight, but temperatures remain low, averaging -25°C (-13°F). In May the temperature rises above freezing, and snowmelt begins. Read More
The climate of the northern islands is the most severe of that encountered by Arctic hares.
  • In the summer of the Far North, June, July and August are characterized by snow-free ground, growth and flowering of plants, the presence of breeding birds, 24 hours of sunlight and average temperatures of 0°C to 5°C (32°F to 41°F).
  • September and October bring the autumnal end of 24 hours of sunlight; the first snow cover; freeze-up of ponds, lakes and the Arctic ocean; and temperatures of -30°C to 0°C (-22°F to 32°F).
  • The sun sets in early November and remains below the horizon for 3 months.
  • Wintry December-to-March features more snow, lots of wind, and temperatures of -40°C to -30°C (-40°F to -22°F). The sun rises again in early February, and the number of hours it is above the horizon increases steadily through March.
  • April sees the spring start of 24 hours of sunlight, but temperatures remain low, averaging -25°C (-13°F). In May the temperature rises above freezing, and snowmelt begins.
In the more southerly parts of the Arctic hare’s range, the winters are shorter but still cold, and the hours of summer daylight and winter darkness decrease with descending latitude. In all areas the ground is snow-covered for part of the year.

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

Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) live above the treeline in North America and in Greenland. In Canada, they live in the tundra regions of Newfoundland and Labrador in the southeast, throughout the barrens to the Mackenzie River Delta in the west (Northwest Territories), and north across the Arctic islands to the northernmost tip of Ellesmere Island in Nunavut.

The northernmost record of an Arctic hare was made in 1876 when a party from the British Polar Expedition encountered the tracks of an Arctic hare on the sea ice, 27 km (17 mi.) north of the northern coast of Ellesmere Island.
Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) live above the treeline in North America and in Greenland. In Canada, they live in the tundra regions of Newfoundland and Labrador in the southeast, throughout the barrens to the Mackenzie River Delta in the west (Northwest Territories), and north across the Arctic islands to the northernmost tip of Ellesmere Island in Nunavut.

The northernmost record of an Arctic hare was made in 1876 when a party from the British Polar Expedition encountered the tracks of an Arctic hare on the sea ice, 27 km (17 mi.) north of the northern coast of Ellesmere Island.

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

Map

Ranges of the Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus), the Alaskan hare (Lepus othus) and the mountain hare (Lepus timidus).

Image credits: Donna Naughton, Anne Botman, David R. Gray.
Canadian Museum of Nature

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


Map

Click on a place-name to reveal its position on the map of Canada.

Image credits: David R. Gray, Russ Brooks.
Canadian Museum of Nature

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


A home range is the area over which an animal normally travels in search of food. David Gray learned much about home ranges during his research at Sverdrup Pass on Ellesmere Island: Home ranges of individual hares overlapped considerably. Male hares left their home ranges briefly during the mating season. The home ranges of known Arctic hares occupied about 2.5 square kilometres (1 sq. mi.).

Although some sources speak of Arctic hares migrating, recent studies do not support that idea. There may be regular seasonal movements in some areas. For example, at Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, some hares move from the mainland to smaller islands during the late spring, before the ice of Hudson Bay breaks up. The advantage to this movement is that there are fewer predators, or none, on the islands.

At Sverdrup Pass in late winter, normal movements of Arctic hares -- in groups and alone -- vary considerably from year to year. While feeding over several hours, hares may cover a distance of several kilometres or move within a square kilometre. Sometimes, particularly in the mating season, individual hares make deliberate, non-feeding movements of up to 5 km within a short time. Read More
A home range is the area over which an animal normally travels in search of food. David Gray learned much about home ranges during his research at Sverdrup Pass on Ellesmere Island: Home ranges of individual hares overlapped considerably. Male hares left their home ranges briefly during the mating season. The home ranges of known Arctic hares occupied about 2.5 square kilometres (1 sq. mi.).

Although some sources speak of Arctic hares migrating, recent studies do not support that idea. There may be regular seasonal movements in some areas. For example, at Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, some hares move from the mainland to smaller islands during the late spring, before the ice of Hudson Bay breaks up. The advantage to this movement is that there are fewer predators, or none, on the islands.

At Sverdrup Pass in late winter, normal movements of Arctic hares -- in groups and alone -- vary considerably from year to year. While feeding over several hours, hares may cover a distance of several kilometres or move within a square kilometre. Sometimes, particularly in the mating season, individual hares make deliberate, non-feeding movements of up to 5 km within a short time. Such movement is probably associated with males searching for receptive females.

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

Large groups of hares probably do not stay within a 'group home range'; it is likely that a herd would soon eliminate the food supply if it did not cover considerably more ground.

An intriguing trait of Arctic hares is their inclination to follow each other along recognized trails. These trails are particularly evident on Ellesmere Island, where perhaps thousands of feet have tramped and worn down the earth and even the softer rocks. On seeing a herd of hares travelling in single file along these trails, one explorer recalled that it was like seeing great white strings being pulled over the edge of the mountain as the hares gradually disappeared.
Large groups of hares probably do not stay within a 'group home range'; it is likely that a herd would soon eliminate the food supply if it did not cover considerably more ground.

An intriguing trait of Arctic hares is their inclination to follow each other along recognized trails. These trails are particularly evident on Ellesmere Island, where perhaps thousands of feet have tramped and worn down the earth and even the softer rocks. On seeing a herd of hares travelling in single file along these trails, one explorer recalled that it was like seeing great white strings being pulled over the edge of the mountain as the hares gradually disappeared.

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

Arctic Hare

Three young Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) follow their mother along the top of a ridge on Bathurst Island in Nunavut.

Photo: David R. Gray
Canadian Museum of Nature

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


Learning Objectives

The student will be able to:
  • describe the habitat of the arctic hare;
  • identify where the arctic hares are in Canada on a map;
  • discuss the movements of the arctic hare

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