Snowshoe Hare

photograph of snowshoe hare

photograph from Susan Teel

The snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) is a medium-sized rabbit. Its name comes from the fact that the animal's hind feet are very long and the toes can be spread out to act like snowshoes. These large feet also have fur on the soles which protects them from the cold and increases traction.

Over most of this rabbit's range, the color of its coat varies seasonally. Its summer pelage is rusty, grayish brown. During the winter its coat is white, except for the eyelids and tips of the ears. The snowshoe hare's other common name, varying hare, derives from this changing coat color.

Snowshoe Hare Finds in the Midwestern U.S.

This map shows some of the sites at which red squirrels have been found in the midwestern United States.

On this map the pattern of diagonal red lines shows the modern range of the red squirrel. Green dots represent the sites that have red squirrel remains that are between 40,000 and 10,000 years old. Green triangle represent sites with remains less than 10,000 years old. The sites shown on this map are all relatively well-dated and well-studied.

Today, the snowshoe hare is found in northern and higher elevation areas of North America. However, the bones of this animal have been found in several midwestern paleontological sites. These finds indicate that the snowshoe hare's range included much of the midwestern U.S. during the last glaciation.

The presence of animals like the snowshoe hare in the southern portion of the midwestern U.S. during the last glaciation provides evidence that the climate was cooler at that time. Particularly, it indicates that the summers were probably significantly cooler than those the area experiences today.

photograph of 
Snowshoe Hare Bones

Snowshoe Hare Bones

These snowshoe hare limb bones were recovered from a cave in Jefferson County, Missouri. The picture shows (from top left) a foot bone (metatarsal), an ankle bone (astragalus), the top of a shin bone (tibia, proximal end), the bottom of a thigh bone (femur, distal end), the bottom of an upper arm bone (humerus, distal half) and a thigh bone (femur). The complete thigh bone is 94 mm (3.7 inches) long.

The bones from this cave were originally thought to date from the latest Pleistocene (between about 11,500 and 18,000 years ago). However, recent reanalysis indicates that at least some of the bones in the cave are more than 35,000 years old.