Mad as a March hare?

Brown Hare © David Tipling/2020VISION

Have you ever heard the saying ‘Mad as a March hare’? People have been saying it for hundreds of years. It’s all because of the odd behaviour that hares show in the spring, especially in March. So, what exactly is it?

Why do hares box?

Like for most wildlife, spring is the hares’ breeding season. In March and April, male hares will be looking for females to mate. Contrary to popular belief, it is not two male rivals that box. The males will literally chase females which will often get fed up with so much attention - that's when the boxing match begins! She turns around and wallops the male to discourage him and sometimes to test his stamina. It looks like they’re boxing because the female and male are on their back legs, hitting each other with their front paws. They can even pull out fur!

It's not just boxing they are good at. Hares are true Olympic athletes, as they’re also amazing sprinters. They can reach 40 miles per hour when they run at full pelt. 

Boxing hares

Two hares boxing (female on right)
© Andy Rouse/2020VISION

Hare or Rabbit? Who's who?

Hares and rabbits look similar and some might hop to the conclusion that they're the same animal. While they belong to the same family - Leporidae - hares and rabbits are two completely different species. 

Here's how they differ:

  • Hares are larger and have longer ears and longer legs - thus, they can move much faster
  • Rabbits live in underground burrows, hares live above the ground
  • Newborn hares - called leverets - are fully developed, while baby rabbits - called kittens - cannot survive without their mothers
  • Rabbits are very social and live in large colonies, hares are solitary and live alone or in loose groups

They share a few similarities, though, aside the looks. One of them might sound rather strange to us: they eat their own droppings - to get the full nutritional value from their food, they have to pass it through their digestive system twice. This practice is known as refection. 

Hare and rabbit juxtaposed

Hare (left) © Richard Steel/2020VISION
Rabbit (right) © Jon Hawkins | Surrey Hills Photography

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