32            Polar Hare

                            LEPUS GLACIALIS.--LEACH.
                                [Lepus arcticus]

                                  POLAR HARE.
                                 [Arctic Hare]

                     PLATE XXXII.--MALE.  In summer pelage.

     L. aestate dilute cinereus, hyeme niveus, pilis apice ad radicem albis:
aurium apicibus nigris; vulpes magnitudine.

     As large as a fox; colour, in summer, light gray above; in winter, white,
the hairs at that season being white from the roots.  Tips of ears, black.


     WHITE HARES, Discoveries and Settlements of the English in America, from
       the reign of Henry VIII. to the close of that of Queen Elizabeth, quoted
       from Pinkerton's Voyages, vol. xii., p. 276.
     ALPINE HARE, Philosophical Transactions, London, vol. lxvi., p. 375,
       An. 1777.
     LEPUS TIMIDUS, Fabri., Fauna Groenlandica, p. 25.
     VARYING HARE, Pennant, Are. Zool., vol. i., p. 94.
     WHITE HARE, Hearne's Journey, p., 382.
     WHITE HARE, Cartwright's Journal, vol. ii., p. 76.
     LEPUS GLACIALIS, Leach, Zool. Miscellany, 1814.
     LEPUS GLACIALIS, Ross's Voyage.
     LEPUS GLACIALIS, Captain Sabine's Suppl. Parry's 1st Voyage, p. 188.
     LEPUS GLACIALIS, Franklin's Journal, p. 664.
     LEPUS GLACIALIS, Richardson, Appendix to Parry's 2d Voyage, p. 321.
     POLAR HARE, Harlan, Fauna, p. 194.
     POLAR HARE, Godman, Nat. Hist., vol. ii., p. 162.
     LEPUS GLACIALIS, Richardson, Fauna Boreali Americana, p. 221.
     LEPUS GLACIALIS, Bachman, Acad. Nat. Sciences, Phila., vol. vii., part 2.


     This fine species is considerably larger than the English hare, (L.
timidus.)  Head, larger and longer than that of the European hare; fore-head,
more arched; body, long; nose, blunt; eyes, large; ears, long; whiskers,
composed of a few stiff long hairs; legs, long; soles of feet, broad, thickly
covered with hair concealing the nails, which are long, moderately broad, and
somewhat arched.  Tail, of moderate length, woolly at the roots, intermixed with
longer hairs.  The fur on the back is remarkably close and fine; that on the
under surface is longer, and not quite so close.


     In winter, the Polar Hare is entirely white on every part of the body
except the tips of the ears; the hairs are of the same colour to the roots.  The
ears are tipped with hairs of a brownish-black colour.  In its summer dress,
this species is of a grayish-brown colour on the whole of the head extending to
the ears; ears, black, bordered with white on their outer margins; under parts
of the neck, and the breast, dark bluish-gray; the whole of the back, light
brownish-gray.  The fur under the long hairs of the back is soft and woolly, and
of a grayish-ash; the hairs interspersed among the fur are dark blue near the
roots, then black, tipped with grayish-fawn colour; a few black and white hairs
are interspersed throughout.  The wool on the under surface is bluish-white,
interspersed with long hairs of a slate colour; the hairs forming the whiskers
are white and black, the former predominating.  The inner sides of the forelegs,
thighs, and under surface of the tail, pure white; the hairs on the soles are
yellowish-brown; nails, nearly black.  According to RICHARDSON, "the irides are
of a honey-yellow colour."  The skin of this species appears to be nearly as
tender as that of the Northern hare.


     Specimen, obtained at Labrador.                                Inches.
     Length of head and body  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  26
     Length from point of nose to ear  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   4 1/2
     Length of ear, measured posteriorly  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   4 3/4
     Length of tail (vertebrae)  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   3 1/2
     Length of tail, including fur  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   3 3/4
     Length of whiskers .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   3
     Length from wrist-joint to point of middle claw  .  .  .  .  .   3 3/4
     Length from heel to middle claw   .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   6 1/2
                           Weight, from 7 to 11 lbs.
     These measurements were taken from the specimen after it had been stuffed.
We are under the impression that it was a little longer in its recent state.


     It is to the cold and inhospitable regions of the North, the rugged valleys
of Labrador, and the wild mountain-sides of that desolate land, or to the yet
wilder and more sterile countries that extend from thence toward the west, that
we must resort, to find the large and beautiful Hare we have now to describe;
and if we advance even to the highest latitude man has ever reached, we shall
still find the Polar Hare, though the mercury fall below zero, and huge
snow-drifts impede our progress through the trackless waste.
     Both Indians and trappers are occasionally relieved from almost certain
starvation by the existence of this Hare, which is found throughout the whole
range of country extending from the Eastern to the Western shores of Northern
America, and includes nearly thirty-five degrees of latitude, from the extreme
North to Newfoundland.
     In various parts of this thinly inhabited and unproductive region, the
Polar Hare, perhaps the finest of all the American hares, takes up its
residence.  It is covered in the long dark winter with a coat of warm fur, so
dense that it cannot be penetrated by the rain, and which is an effectual
protection from the intense cold of the rigorous climate.
     Its changes of colour help to conceal it from the observation of its
enemies; in summer it is nearly of the colour of the earth and the surrounding
rocks, and in winter it assumes a snow-white coat.  The changes it thus
undergoes, correspond with the shortness of the summers and the length of the
Arctic winters.  In the New England States the Northern hare continues white for
about five months, that being the usual duration of the winters there; but in
the Arctic regions, where the summer lasts for about three months only, whilst
the earth during the remainder of the year is covered with snow, were the Polar
Hare not to become white till November, (the time when the Northern hare
changes,) it would for two months be exposed to the keen eyes of its greatest
destroyers, the golden eagle and the snowy owl, as its dark fur would be
conspicuous oil, the snow; or were it to become brown in April, it would wear
its summer dress long before the earth had thrown off its mantle of white, or a
single bud had peeped through the snow.
     The eye of the Polar Hare is adapted to the twilight that reigns during a
considerable part of the year within the Arctic circle; in summer it avoids the
glare of the almost continual day-light, seeking the shade of the little
thickets of dwarfish trees that are scattered over the barren grounds, the woods
that skirt the streams, or the shelter of some overhanging rock.
     In addition to the circumstance that the eye of this Hare is well fitted
for seeing with a very moderate light, it may be remarked that in winter the
frequent and long continued luminous appearance of the heavens caused by the
aurora borealis, together with the brightness of the unsullied snow, afford a
sufficient degree of light for it to proceed with its customary occupations.
     During the summer this species is found on the borders of thickets, or in
stony or rocky places.  In waiter it is often seen in the barren and open
country, where only a few stunted shrubs and clumps of spruce fir (Abies rubra)
afford it shelter, differing in this habit from the Northern hare, which
confines itself to thick woods throughout the year, avoiding cleared fields and
open ground.
     Captain Ross says of the Polar Hare, "There is scarcely a spot in the
Arctic regions, the most desolate and sterile that can be conceived, where this
animal is not to be found, and that too, throughout the winter; nor does it seek
to shelter itself from the inclemency of the weather by burrowing in the snow,
but is found generally sitting solitarily under the lee of a large stone, where
the snow drift as it passes along, seems in some measure to afford a protection
from the bitterness of the blast that impels it, by collecting around and half
burying the animal beneath it."
     The food of this species varies with the season.  HEARNE tells us that "in
winter it feeds on long rye-grass and the tops of dwarf willows, but in summer
it eats berries and different sorts of small herbage."
     According to RICHARDSON, "it seeks the sides of the hills, where the wind
prevents the snow from lodging deeply, and where even in the winter it can
procure the berries of the Alpine arbutus, the bark of some dwarf willows,
(Salix,) or the evergreen leaves of the Labrador tea-plant," (Ledum latifolium.)
Captain LYON, in his private journal, has noted that on the barren coast of
Winter Island, the Hares went out the ice to the ships, to feed on the
tea-leaves thrown overboard by the sailors."
     The Polar Hare is not a very shy or timid animal, but has on being
approached much the same habits as the Northern hare."It merely runs to a little
distance, (says RICHARDSON,) and sits down, repeating this manoeuvre as often as
its pursuer comes nearly within gun-shot, until it is thoroughly seared by his
perseverance, when it makes off.  It is not difficult to get within bow-shot of
it by walking round it and gradually contracting the circle--a method much
practised by the Indians."  HEARNE had previously made the same observations; he
says also, "the middle of the day, if it be clear weather, is the best time to
kill them in this manner, for before and after noon the sun's altitude being so
small, makes a man's shadow so long on the snow as to frighten the Hare before
he can approach near enough to kill it.  The same may be said of deer when on
open plains, which are frequently more frightened at the long shadow than at the
man himself."
     All travellers concur in stating the flesh of this animal to be of a finer
flavour than that of any of our other hares.  We obtained one while at St.
George's Bay, in Newfoundland, and all our party made a meal of it; we
pronounced it delicious food.
     A lady residing at that place informed us that she had domesticated the
Polar Hare, and had reared some of them for food.  She said that the flesh was
fine-flavoured, and the animals easily tamed, and that she had only been induced
to discontinue keeping them in consequence of their becoming troublesome, and
destructive in her garden.
     The Polar Hare is stated by RICHARDSON, on the authority of Indian hunters,
to bring forth once in a year, and only three young at a litter.  That owing to
the short summer of the Arctic regions, it does not produce more than once
annually, is no doubt true; but the number of young-brought forth at a time, we
are inclined to believe, was not correctly given by the Indian hunters.
     CARTWRIGHT (see Jour., vol. ii., p. 76) killed a female of this species at
Labrador on the 11th June, from which he took five young.
     Capt.  Ross says, "a female killed by one of our party at Sheriff Harbour
on the 7th of June, had four young in utero, perfectly mature, 5 1/2 inches
long, and of a dark gray colour.  In one shot at Igloolik, on the 2d June, six
young were found, not quite so far advanced."
     An intelligent farmer who had resided some years in Newfoundland, informed
us that he had on several occasions counted the young of the Polar Hare, and had
never found less than five, and often had taken seven from one nest.  He
considered the average number of young to each litter as six.  FABRICIUS,
alluding to the habits of this species as existing in Greenland, says, "They
pair in April, and in the month of June produce eight young at a birth."
     Some idea may be formed of the very short period this species continues in
its summer colours, from the following remarks of different observers.  In
BEACHY's Narrative, (p. 447,) is the following notice:-- "May 5th.  The party
killed a white Hare, it was getting its summer coat."  CARTWRIGHT killed one on
the 11th June, and remarks that it was yet white.  We obtained a specimen on the
15th August, 1833, and ascertained that the change from summer to winter colours
had already commenced.  There was a large spot, nearly a hand's breadth, of pure
white on the back, extending nearly to the insertion of the tail; three or four
white spots about an inch in diameter were also found on the sides.
     Captain Ross states--"One taken by us on the 28th of June, a few days after
its birth, soon became sufficiently tame to eat from our hands, and was allowed
to run loose about the cabin.  During the summer we fed it on such plants as the
country produced, and stored up a quantity of grass and astragali for its winter
consumption; but it preferred to share with us whatever our table could afford,
and would enjoy peas-soup, plum-pudding, bread, barley-soup, sugar, rice, and
even cheese, with us.  It could not endure to be caressed, but was exceedingly
fond of company, and would sit for hours listening to a conversation, which was
no sooner ended than he would retire to his cabin; he was a continual source of
amusement by his sagacity and playfulness."   *   *   *   "The fur of the Polar
Hare is so exceedingly soft, that an Esquimaux woman spun some of its wool into
a thread, and knitted several pairs of gloves, one pair of which, beautifully
white, came into my possession.  It resembled the Angola wool, but was still
     The specimen we procured in Newfoundland weighed seven and a half pounds;
it was obtained on the 15th August, in the midst of summer, when all hares are
lean.  It was at a period of the year also, when in that island they are
incessantly harassed by the troublesome moose-fly.  Deer, hares, &c., and even
men, suffer very much in consequence of their attacks.  The Indians we saw
there, although tempted by a high reward, refused to go in search of these
Hares, from a dread of this persecuting insect; and our party, who had gone on a
moose-hunt, were obliged by the inflammation succeeding the bites inflicted on
them to return on the same day they started.
     Dr. RICHARDSON sets down the weight of a full grown Polar Hare as varying
according to its condition from seven to fourteen pounds.
     In BEACHY's Narrative there is an account of a Polar Hare, killed on the
15th May, that weighed nearly twelve pounds; and HEARNE (See Journey, p. 383)
says that, "in, good condition many of them weigh from fourteen to fifteen

                           GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION.

     This species occupies a wide range in the northern portions of our
continent; it extends from the shores of Baffin's Bay across the continent to
Behring's Straits.  It has been seen as far north as the North Georgian Islands,
in latitude 75 degrees.  On the western portion of the American continent has
not been found further to the south than latitude 64 degrees, but on the eastern
coast it reaches much farther south.  RICHARDSON has stated that its most
southerly known habitat is in the neighbourhood of Fort Churchill, on Hudson's
Bay, which is in the 58th parallel of latitude, but remarks, that it may
perhaps extend farther to the southward on the elevated ridges of the Rocky
Mountains, or on the Eastern coast, in Labrador.  We have ascertained that on
the eastern coast of America it exists least ten and a half degrees south of the
latitude assigned to it above; as we procured our specimen at Newfoundland, in
latitude 47 1/2 degrees, where it was quite common; and we have been informed
that it also exists in the northern portions of Nova Scotia.  To the north-east,
it has found its way across Baffin's Bay, and exists in Greenland.

                                GENERAL REMARKS.

     Although the Polar Hare was noticed at a very early period in the history
of America, until recently it was considered identical with other species that
have since been ascertained to differ from it.  The writer of the History of
Discoveries and Settlements of the English in America, from the reign of Henry
VII.  to the close of that of Queen Elizabeth, speaking of the animals at
Churchill and Hudson's Bay, (see PINKERTON, Voy., vol. vii., p. 276,) says, "the
hares grow white in winter, and recover their colour in spring; they have very
large ears which are always black; their skins in winter are very pretty, of
fine long hair which does not fall; so that they make very fine muffs."
     There can be no doubt that the Polar Hare was here alluded to.  PENTANT
remarked that its size was greater than that of the varying hare, with which it
had so long been considered identical.  HEARNE, who observed it on our
continent, and FABRICIUS, who obtained it in Greenland, regarded it as the
varying hare.  LEACH, in 1814, (Zoological Miscellany,) characterized it as a
new species.  It was subsequently noticed by SABINE, FRANKLIN, and RICHARDSON.
As an evidence of how little was known of our American hares until very
recently, we would refer to the fact that in the last general work on American
quadrupeds by an American author, published by Dr. GODMAN in 1826, only two
hares were admitted into our Fauna--Lepus Americanus, by which he referred to
our gray rabbit, and Lepus glacialis, which together with Lepus Virginianus of
HARLAN, he felt disposed to refer to Lepus variabilis of Europe, leaving us but
one native species, and even to that applying a wrong name.  We hope in this
work to be able to present our readers with at least fourteen species of true
hares, that exist in America north of the tropic of Cancer, all peculiar to this
     In 1829 Dr. RICHARDSON gave an excellent description, (Fauna Boreali
Americana, p. 221,) removing every doubt as to Lepus glacialis being a true,
species.  In 1838, having obtained a specimen in summer pelage, the only one
that as far as we have learned existed in any collection in our country, we were
induced to describe it, (Journal Acad. Nat. Sciences, Philadelphia, vol. vii.,
p. 285.)