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Snowshoe hares are designed to bound through winter.

Jan 20, 2018 07:56PM ● Published by Editor

Photo from the National Park Service

By Jim Gilbert - Special to the Star Tribune - January 18, 2018

A great place to learn about snowshoe hare ecology is at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, just inland from Lake Superior near Finland, Minn.

I have taken school groups on winter walks there many times, often on snowshoes, along snow-covered forest edges and into the boreal forest to discover snowshoe hare tracks, trails, droppings, and browsing sites. Quite often, to the delight of the young observers, we actually see individual hares, usually bounding quickly away.

Residents of northern Minnesota's evergreen forests, snowshoe hares are dark brown during the summer. They turn white in winter but keep their black-tipped ears. Other distinctive qualities: their long ears and large hind feet — the snowshoes that enable them to move across the landscape, staying near the surface and not sinking into the snow.

Young hares are born with a fur coat and open eyes, and they are able to run within hours of birth. Rabbits, such as the eastern cottontail of southern Minnesota, are born naked and with their eyes shut. They don't turn white in the winter.

Deep snow is an advantage for hares. They can move fast on top of it. And heavy snows bend branches, making life for these small browsers much easier.

Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.

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