Loading Content...

The Irish Hare

Irish Hare

The Irish hare, known in Latin as ‘Lepus timidus hibernicus’, is one of our longest established native mammals. There are records of the hare in Ireland as far back as the Ice Age. The Irish Hare is a distinct, endemic subspecies of the mountain hare. A male hare is called a ‘Jack’ or a ‘buck’, and a female is called a ‘Jill’ or a ‘doe’. Female hares have been known to breed from as young as one year old and their babies are called ‘leverets’. Hares are particularly fascinating from other mammals as a doe can conceive while already pregnant. Breeding occurs from December to October and 2–3 litters of 2–3 leverets are born a year.

Irish hares don’t hibernate. They are herbivores and have food all year round. Their diet includes grass and plants like heather and willow. Hares like to live in open habitats, above ground in areas of grassland, moors and bogs. The hare will occupy an area of flattened vegetation called a form.

The colour and size of the Irish hare distinguish it from the rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus; adults are russet brown in colour and can weigh twice as much as a rabbit (2.3 – 4.3 kg) (Corbet & Harris 1991). Mortality of young is typically high; and studies of mountain hares indicate that up to 76% of leverets fail to survive past their first year. In Aesop’s Fables ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ tells the story of a hare who ridicules a tortoise. The tortoise challenges the hare to a race. The hare being far ahead of the tortoise in the race and confident of winning, takes a nap halfway through. When he awakes, he finds that the tortoise has arrived before him. The story teaches morals of foolish over- confidence. In British mythology, the hare was associated with the Anglo-Saxon goddess ‘Eostre’ whose pagan beliefs were adapted into the Christian culture as the Easter Bunny.

Interactive Map

Download the APP