Jackrabbit: Black-tailed, White-Tailed, and Snowshoe Hares

Jackrabbit – Genus Lepus

There are three species of hares (genus Lepus) native to California: the black-tailed, the white-tailed and the snowshoe hare. The black-tailed and white-tailed hares are commonly called jackrabbits. The snowshoe (or varying hare) is known as the snowshoe rabbit.

Rabbits and hares are both mammals in the order Lagomorpha, but they belong to different families: rabbits are in the family Leporidae, while hares (Jackrabbits) are in the family Lepus. Jackrabbits are true hares because, unlike the cotton-tailed rabbits, they do not build nests. Baby hares are born with fur and open eyes, and they’re able to move around shortly after birth. Baby rabbits, known as kits, are born blind and hairless. Hares are also larger than rabbits and have longer ears with black tips.

Jackrabbit Adaptations

Jackrabbits have evolved remarkable adaptations to thrive in their arid environments. Their oversized ears serve as effective radiators, helping regulate their body temperature in the scorching heat. Their powerful hind legs are built for swift escapes from predators, enabling them to reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. Jackrabbits’ large eyes provide excellent vision for spotting threats in the open landscape. Their unique digestive system allows them to extract as much moisture as possible from their food, enabling them to survive in areas with limited water sources.


Black-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus)

The black-tailed jackrabbit is found in western North America, ranging from Canada to Mexico. It inhabits a variety of habitats including grasslands, deserts, and agricultural areas. This hare is characterized by its long ears with black tips, and its fur is typically a mixture of brown and gray, providing camouflage in its environment. Black-tailed jackrabbits are well adapted to running at high speeds to escape predators and are known for their distinctive “stotting” behavior.

White-tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus townsendii)

The white-tailed jackrabbit is found in western North America, primarily in areas with open grasslands, shrublands, and prairies. Its name comes from the white underside of its tail, which is visible when it is running away. Its fur is usually a mix of gray and brown, providing effective camouflage. These hares are known for their large size and powerful hind legs, which aid in their high-speed escapes from predators.

Antelope Jackrabbit (Lepus alleni)

The antelope jackrabbit is native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It inhabits various desert and arid regions, preferring habitats with low shrubs and sandy soils. Its fur is typically a sandy or grayish color, allowing it to blend into its surroundings. Antelope jackrabbits are adapted to the desert environment with their efficient water-conserving behaviors and their ability to withstand high temperatures.

Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus)

The snowshoe hare is found in North America, particularly in northern regions including Canada and parts of the northern United States. It inhabits boreal forests and wooded areas. The snowshoe hare’s fur changes color with the seasons, turning brown in summer and white in winter to match its surroundings. Its large, snowshoe-like hind feet help it move easily on snow-covered terrain. Snowshoe hares are an important prey species in their ecosystems.

Desert Hare (Various species)

While not one specific species, several hare species are adapted to desert environments, including the desert cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii). These hares are found in various desert habitats across North and South America. Their fur coloration is often sandy or brownish to blend into the arid landscape. Desert hares have specialized adaptations for dealing with heat, including efficient cooling mechanisms and behaviors that minimize water loss.

jackrabbit in desert

The Habitat of Hares

Jackrabbits inhabit a diverse range of habitats, spanning from grasslands to desert environments. They are well-adapted to arid regions, where their keen survival strategies enable them to flourish in challenging conditions. These hares can be found darting through open plains, desert scrublands, and even agricultural fields, showcasing their remarkable ability to navigate a variety of landscapes.

Jackrabbit Size and Coloring

The black-tailed jackrabbit is 18 to 25 inches long and is colored buff peppered with black above, and white below. The tail has a black stripe above. The ears are long and brown with black tips. The antelope jackrabbit is approximately the same size, but colored gray above with the lower sides mostly white. The face, throat and ears are brownish, but there is no black tip on the ears.

The snowshoe rabbit, like the white-tailed jackrabbit, also goes through two annual molts. In early winter it turns snow white, except for the tips of its ears, which remain black. Its feet become covered with a mat of long hair, to help it run over the soft snow, thus its name “snowshoe”. In late spring it molts again to a summer coat of grayish brown.

Life Cycle of Hares

The snowshoe rabbit and the white-tailed jackrabbit may have more than one litter a year. There can be as many as 7 or 8 in a litter, although the average litter is from 2 to 4.

The black-tailed jackrabbit is by far the most common and is found all over California except in the mountainous areas at elevations above 12,000 feet. They adapt themselves readily to man’s use of the land and thrive even in highly developed areas.

In the more temperate areas of the black-tailed jackrabbit’s range, breeding may continue the year around. Usually several litters are born each year. Here again there may be as many as 8, but the average litter is from 2 to 4. The mother hides her young when she goes out to feed, and, upon returning, mother and young call to locate each other.

They grow rather rapidly and reach adult size in about 7 or 8 months. Sexual maturity is attained at about the same time, but young females do not breed until early in the year following their birth. Usually, the expectant mother provides no nest for her young.

Hares have many natural enemies. Coyotes, bobcats, foxes, horned owls, hawks and snakes prey on both the young and adult jackrabbits. At higher elevations the marten and fisher also prey on the snowshoe hare.

Hares are active primarily at night. During the day they lie crouched in a “form” which they have made by using the same spot in a clump of grass or weeds. With their long ears flattened against their back, they are difficult to see. Frequently on hot summer days, jackrabbits can be seen resting in the shade of a small bush or even a fence post. When frightened they run with such speed that few dogs can catch them. At the start of the chase their speed is broken by high long leaps.

What do Jackrabbits Eat?

Jackrabbits are primarily herbivores, which means they primarily eat plant matter. Their diet consists of a variety of vegetation, including grasses, leaves, stems, and even some fruits and flowers. Their feeding habits can vary based on the availability of food and their specific habitat.

During the warmer months, jackrabbits often consume grasses and other green plants that are abundant. As the seasons change and food availability shifts, they may also consume woody plants and shrubs. Jackrabbits have specialized adaptations in their digestive systems that allow them to extract as much nutrition as possible from the plant material they consume, which is important in their arid environments where food resources can be limited.

It’s important to note that while jackrabbits are primarily herbivores, they have been observed occasionally eating their own feces, a behavior known as coprophagy. This behavior might help them further digest and extract nutrients from their plant-based diet.

List of Desert Animals

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