The Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) is a social animal. Hares live together in herds, which are either large groups or scattered smaller groups.

From late winter through late summer, Arctic hares in the northern islands may group together in herds of more than 100 individuals. There are also photographs and stories of herds of thousands. Pilots recount stories of hillsides being so covered with hares that the hills themselves appeared to be moving.

Such enormous herds seem to be the exception rather than the rule. We don’t know why these herds form: it may be that in years of high population smaller herds congregate together, it might be a response to the coming of winter, or it might be a strategy for avoiding predation.

Large herds of hares do not form at Sverdrup Pass. Unlike other parts of Ellesmere Island, the Arctic hare population in the pass is small and restricted to a relatively small area by the valley walls and glaciers. In late winter, hares there group together in herds of up to 30 individuals, though some remain in pairs or alone. The size of the group changes frequently. Larger groups remain together for only a few hours Read More
The Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) is a social animal. Hares live together in herds, which are either large groups or scattered smaller groups.

From late winter through late summer, Arctic hares in the northern islands may group together in herds of more than 100 individuals. There are also photographs and stories of herds of thousands. Pilots recount stories of hillsides being so covered with hares that the hills themselves appeared to be moving.

Such enormous herds seem to be the exception rather than the rule. We don’t know why these herds form: it may be that in years of high population smaller herds congregate together, it might be a response to the coming of winter, or it might be a strategy for avoiding predation.

Large herds of hares do not form at Sverdrup Pass. Unlike other parts of Ellesmere Island, the Arctic hare population in the pass is small and restricted to a relatively small area by the valley walls and glaciers. In late winter, hares there group together in herds of up to 30 individuals, though some remain in pairs or alone. The size of the group changes frequently. Larger groups remain together for only a few hours, usually through one feeding and resting cycle.

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

aerial view

The white dots in this aerial view are a scattered grouping of more than 150 Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) near Eureka, Ellesmere Island (Nunavut).

Image credits: S.D. MacDonald
Canadian Museum of Nature

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


There is no evidence of territory formation in Arctic hares, though dominant individuals will displace others from food sources and shelters (forms or rocks).

At Sverdrup Pass, a hare named Blue Bun by David Gray frequently displaced other hares from feeding craters and chased them from baited traps. This dominance did not seem to influence Blue Bun's mating success: Blue Bun and other apparently dominant hares did not interfere as others attempted to mate with females in the same group.
There is no evidence of territory formation in Arctic hares, though dominant individuals will displace others from food sources and shelters (forms or rocks).

At Sverdrup Pass, a hare named Blue Bun by David Gray frequently displaced other hares from feeding craters and chased them from baited traps. This dominance did not seem to influence Blue Bun's mating success: Blue Bun and other apparently dominant hares did not interfere as others attempted to mate with females in the same group.

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

As with any animal living in groups, communication among Arctic hares is an essential part of the social way of life. For Arctic hares the key method of communication is olfactory, that is, communication by smell and scent. Hares also rely on body language. For hares the position of ears is the most important of the visual signals.
As with any animal living in groups, communication among Arctic hares is an essential part of the social way of life. For Arctic hares the key method of communication is olfactory, that is, communication by smell and scent. Hares also rely on body language. For hares the position of ears is the most important of the visual signals.

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

The activities of Arctic hares in a group are synchronized, in that they feed and rest at about the same time.

In late winter in the High Arctic, hares feed actively in the early to mid-morning, rest for two to three hours, and feed again in the mid-afternoon. The morning rest period is highly synchronized with most hares in an area resting at the same time. Another less-coordinated rest period happens in the evening before midnight.

In the southern part of the Arctic hare range, south of the Arctic Circle, where Arctic hares are more influenced by the year-round cycle of light and dark, they are generally nocturnal: they rest during the day and begin to feed at dusk.
The activities of Arctic hares in a group are synchronized, in that they feed and rest at about the same time.

In late winter in the High Arctic, hares feed actively in the early to mid-morning, rest for two to three hours, and feed again in the mid-afternoon. The morning rest period is highly synchronized with most hares in an area resting at the same time. Another less-coordinated rest period happens in the evening before midnight.

In the southern part of the Arctic hare range, south of the Arctic Circle, where Arctic hares are more influenced by the year-round cycle of light and dark, they are generally nocturnal: they rest during the day and begin to feed at dusk.

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

Arctic Hare

Grooming of the fur is an important part of an Arctic hare's daily routine. Before and after each resting period, Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) spend several minutes carefully cleaning and combing the fur on their face, ears, body, legs and feet.

Image credits: David R. Gray
Canadian Museum of Nature

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


Arctic hares rarely vocalize, but David Gray and his research team heard three kinds of sounds: Prior to nursing their young, female hares make a noise like a growl, which seems to be a signal to the young that it is time for suckling. A second and better-known sound is the scream produced by a hare in distress, such as when a young hare was captured by hand. A ferocious low growl was made by a hare caught in a net and struggling against its captors
Arctic hares rarely vocalize, but David Gray and his research team heard three kinds of sounds: Prior to nursing their young, female hares make a noise like a growl, which seems to be a signal to the young that it is time for suckling. A second and better-known sound is the scream produced by a hare in distress, such as when a young hare was captured by hand. A ferocious low growl was made by a hare caught in a net and struggling against its captors

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

Young hares

Young Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus) wait for their mother. When she arrives, they approach and suckle. After she leaves, they play.

Image Credits: David A. Gill
Canadian Museum of Nature

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


In summer, groups of hares indulge in a frisky, running play, jumping and chasing each other across the tundra. On occasion, such playful jumping and running can become so intense that it not only defies description, but also belief.
In summer, groups of hares indulge in a frisky, running play, jumping and chasing each other across the tundra. On occasion, such playful jumping and running can become so intense that it not only defies description, but also belief.

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

Learning Objectives

The student will be able to :
  • discuss the social behaviours of the arctic hare;
  • describe the ways arctic hares communicate.

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