European hare

European hare
Lepus europaeus (Causse Méjean, Lozère)-cropped.jpg
Scientific classification edit
L. europaeus
Binomial name
Lepus europaeus
Pallas, 1778
European Hare area.png
European hare range
(dark red – native, red – introduced)

The European hare (Lepus europaeus), also known as the brown hare, is a species of hare native to Europe and parts of Asia. It is among the largest hare species and is adapted to temperate, open country. Some hares are herbivorous and feed mainly on grasses and herbs, supplementing these with twigs, buds, bark and field crops, particularly in winter. Their natural predators include large birds of prey, canids and felids. They rely on high-speed endurance running to escape predation, having long, powerful limbs and large nostrils.

Generally nocturnal and shy in nature, hares change their behaviour in the spring, when they can be seen in broad daylight chasing one another around in fields. During this spring frenzy, they sometimes strike one another with their paws ("boxing"). This is usually not competition between males, but a female hitting a male, either to show she is not yet ready to mate or as a test of his determination. The female nests in a depression on the surface of the ground rather than in a burrow and the young are active as soon as they are born. Litters may consist of three or four young and a female can bear three litters a year, with hares living for up to twelve years. The breeding season lasts from January to August.

The European hare is listed as being of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature because it has a wide range and is moderately abundant. However, populations have been declining in mainland Europe since the 1960s, at least partly due to changes in farming practices. The hare has been hunted across Europe for centuries, with more than five million being shot each year; in Britain, it has traditionally been hunted by beagling and hare coursing, but these field sports are now illegal. The hare has been a traditional symbol of fertility and reproduction in some cultures and its courtship behaviour in the spring inspired the English idiom mad as a March hare.

Taxonomy and genetics

Granada hare
The Granada hare (Lepus granatensis) was once considered a subspecies of the European hare.

The European hare was first described in 1778 by German zoologist Peter Simon Pallas.[2] It shares the genus Lepus (Latin for "hare"[3]) with 31 other hare and jackrabbit species,[4] jackrabbits being the name given to some species of hare native to North America. They are distinguished from other leporids (hares and rabbits) by their longer legs, wider nostrils and active (precocial) young.[5] The Corsican hare, broom hare and Granada hare were at one time considered to be subspecies of the European hare, but DNA sequencing and morphological analysis support their status as separate species.[6][7]

There is some debate as to whether the European hare and the Cape hare are the same species. A 2005 nuclear gene pool study suggested that they are,[8] but a 2006 study of the mitochondrial DNA of these same animals concluded that they had diverged sufficiently widely to be considered separate species.[9] A 2008 study claims that in the case of Lepus species, with their rapid evolution, species designation cannot be based solely on mtDNA but should also include an examination of the nuclear gene pool. It is possible that the genetic differences between the European and Cape hare are due to geographic separation rather than actual divergence. It has been speculated that in the Near East, hare populations are intergrading and experiencing gene flow.[10] Another 2008 study suggests that more research is needed before a conclusion is reached as to whether a species complex exists;[11] the European hare remains classified as a single species until further data contradicts this assumption.[1]

Cladogenetic analysis suggests that European hares survived the last glacial period during the Pleistocene via refugia in southern Europe (Italian peninsula and Balkans) and Asia Minor. Subsequent colonisations of Central Europe appear to have been initiated by human-caused environmental changes.[12] Genetic diversity in current populations is high with no signs of inbreeding. Gene flow appears to be biased towards males,[discuss] but overall populations are matrilineally structured. There appears to be a particularly large degree of genetic diversity in hares in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany. It is however possible that restricted gene flow could reduce genetic diversity within populations that become isolated.[13]

Historically, up to 30 subspecies of European hare have been described, although their status has been disputed.[5] These subspecies have been distinguished by differences in pelage colouration, body size, external body measurements, skull morphology and tooth shape.[14]

Sixteen subspecies are listed in the IUCN red book, following Hoffmann and Smith (2005):[1]

  • Lepus europaeus caspicus
  • L. e. connori
  • L. e. creticus
  • L. e. cyprius
  • L. e. cyrensis
  • L. e. europaeus
  • L. e. hybridus
  • L. e. judeae
  • L. e. karpathorum
  • L. e. medius
  • L. e. occidentalis
  • L. e. parnassius
  • L. e. ponticus
  • L. e. rhodius
  • L. e. syriacus
  • L. e. transsylvanicus

Twenty-nine subspecies of "very variable status" are listed by Chapman and Flux in their book on lagomorphs, including the subspecies above (with the exceptions of L. e. connori, L. e. creticus, L. e. cyprius, L. e. judeae, L. e. rhodius, and L. e. syriacus) and additionally:[5]

  • L. e. alba
  • L. e. argenteogrisea
  • L. e. biarmicus
  • L. e. borealis
  • L. e. caspicus
  • L. e. caucasicus
  • L. e. flavus
  • L. e. gallaecius
  • L. e. hispanicus
  • L. e. hyemalis
  • L. e. granatensis
  • L. e. iturissius
  • L. e. kalmykorum
  • L. e. meridiei
  • L. e. meridionalis
  • L. e. niethammeri
  • L. e. niger
  • L. e. tesquorum
  • L. e. tumak
Other Languages
Alemannisch: Feldhase
العربية: قواع أوروبي
aragonés: Lepus europaeus
asturianu: Lepus europaeus
azərbaycanca: Boz dovşan
башҡортса: Үрғуян
беларуская: Заяц-русак
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Заяц-русак
български: Див заек
bosanski: Evropski zec
brezhoneg: Gad Europa
català: Llebre comuna
Чӑвашла: Хир мулкачĕ
čeština: Zajíc polní
Deutsch: Feldhase
eesti: Halljänes
español: Lepus europaeus
Esperanto: Eŭropa leporo
euskara: Erbi arrunt
français: Lièvre d'Europe
Frysk: Hazze
한국어: 숲멧토끼
hrvatski: Europski zec
italiano: Lepus europaeus
kaszëbsczi: Szari zajc
қазақша: Ор қоян
кырык мары: Луды морен
latviešu: Pelēkais zaķis
Lëtzebuergesch: Europäeschen Hues
lietuvių: Pilkasis kiškis
Livvinkarjala: Jänöi
lumbaart: Lepus europaeus
magyar: Mezei nyúl
Bahasa Melayu: Lepus europaeus
Nederlands: Haas (dier)
Nordfriisk: Fialhaas
norsk: Sørhare
norsk nynorsk: Sørhare
олык марий: Сур мераҥ
português: Lebre-comum
română: Iepure de câmp
русский: Заяц-русак
sardu: Lèpere
Seeltersk: Hoase
sicilianu: Lebbru
slovenčina: Zajac poľný
slovenščina: Poljski zajec
српски / srpski: Европски зец
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Obični zec
suomi: Rusakko
svenska: Fälthare
татарча/tatarça: Үр куяны
українська: Заєць сірий
Tiếng Việt: Thỏ rừng châu Âu
žemaitėška: Zoikis
中文: 歐洲野兔