Arctic Hare

Quick Facts

Scientific name:
Lepus arcticus
Indigenous name:
Ukaliq (North and South Qikiqtaaluk, Aivilingmiutut, Paallirmiutut, Inuinnaqtun, Nattilingmiutut), ukalik (Nunatsiavummiutut)
IUCN conservation status:

Least concern (assessed June 1, 2018)

Genome sequenced?
No. of chromosomes:
24 x 2 (48)
Size of genome:

Not known/Not sequenced (Mitochondrial DNA has 16,972 base pairs)

Did You Know?

  • Male arctic hares are known as bucks and the females are known as does.
  • While rabbit babies are born naked and blind, arctic hares are born with a full fur coat and their eyes wide open, they are also able to start jumping within just minutes of birth.
  • Due to their eye placement, arctic hares have 360 degree vision and can see all their surroundings without turning their heads.
  • They have black eyelashes that protect their eyes from the glare of the arctic sun.
  • They are very well adapted to living in the arctic, they have shortened ears and limbs and nearly a quarter of their body is made up of fat.
  • Arctic hares can run at speeds of 60 km/h.
  • Arctic hares have an average lifespan of 3–5 years.
  • Arctic hares residing in the far north regions of the arctic keep their white coats all year long, while the hares residing in the more southern regions of the arctic moult and their white fur turns brown for better camouflage during the spring and summer months.
  • Arctic hares can have up to 8 babies in a litter, their babies are called leverets.
  • Arctic hares are the largest living lagomorphs.

Life History

The Arctic hare resides on the arctic tundra with minimal tree coverage. They dig holes in the snow  to protect themselves from the elements and to keep warm and sleep in. They weigh between 3–7 kg and their diet consists of woody plants, berries, lichens, and other woody plants that they can dig up and forage for throughout the arctic winters. They have a very keen sense of smell which allows them to locate their food underneath the snow before they begin to dig it out with their claws. They have large flat hind feet which create a greater surface area on the snow which allows the hares to not sink through the snow. Their bright white coat acts as camouflage from predators such as the arctic fox and wolves. Their eye placement allows them to have 360 degree vision and their black eyelashes act as sunglasses to protect them from the glare. They have a gestation period of 52 days and they mate between the months of April and May, the female will give birth to about 8 leverets and will stay for a couple months until they are ready to go out on their own. The female will build a nest in the ground for the leverets to stay in until they are able to wander off, though they will come back to nurse until they are weaned and ready to be out on their own.

Importance in Indigenous Culture

Arctic hare is not a major food source for the Inuit people but can serve as a supplement to a caribou and marine mammal diet if those food sources are scarce. Their skins are very delicate and not useful for hard use however they are very warm and are made into sleeping bags for children. Their skins were also used medicinally and placed on boils and cuts, their tufts of hair could be used as seal indicators and their mammary glands were thought to have many useful powers including helping new mothers to provide more nourishing milk and fighting against stomach aches. The Inuit have many ways of describing the arctic hare, including the word “qilimiktuq” which is a term used to describe a period of immobility when a hare sits still and their ears look like “two kayaks bound together to make a raft or catamaran”. The Inuit word “kakaviktuq” describes how the hares ears look when they are preparing to run and hide, their ears are held upright “like when it is carrying somebody on its shoulders”. There are many stories and legends associated with the arctic hare such as “The tale of the fox and the hare” which is the story of how a hare marries a female fox and promises to provide her with all the prey she needs, however he is unable to deliver on his promise and the two must go their separate ways.

Conservation Issues

Arctic hares are listed as a least concern species/low risk by the IUCN red list. They are a widespread species and their population levels appear healthy and stable. However there is little to no ongoing monitoring of populations. Arctic hares are one of the primary food sources to many predators on the arctic tundra and without them these predators could not survive. The largest threat to the arctic hare is habitat destruction and loss due to climate change.

Role of Genomics

While the whole genome of Arctic hare is not sequenced, their Mitochondrial genome is typical of their genus, Lepus. Based upon the information available from their mitochondrial genome, there is low genetic diversity among Arctic hare. But a true population diversity assessment can only be made after full genome sequencing, which can also shed light on their speciation from their Southern relatives and the genetic basis of their cold adaptation.


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