Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Hare Revealed--Addended: Not a Hare

We had a daytime visit from one of the mystery lagomorphs. And I was able to get this picture.

In transition?

I think this is a snowshoe hare (wish the feet were more in evidence), changing slowly to white, I guess. When it took off it moved differently from a cottontail, more like an arctic hare (which, sad to say, I've only seen on TV). I flushed a cottontail in the fields on the day I took this shot, a much darker and smaller rabbit. Also a more nervous animal--it bolted when I was still a fair distance away and it had been under cover. The animal in the photo sat under the tree while I stood barely 3 or 4 metres away, intermittently freezing and then returning to its feeding. It was only when I moved a few feet that it took off.

The red/orange pee phenomenon ended a day or two after I first reported it. So, still something of a mystery. Either it was the product of a particular individual who stopped coming around, or a result of some dietary delicacy that the rabbit or hare was no longer eating. A comment left on the first post by Troutgrrrl informed me that porphyrin (one possible cause of the red colour) could have come from a plant source, as this substance is found in chlorophyll as well as hemoglobin--still don't know though why some times or some individuals and not others.

The second and last English language leaders' debate of the federal election campaign takes place tonight. Things are not going well--must walk more and pay less attention to politics...maybe after the debate.

Thanks to Ontario Wanderer and Terry Sprague I now believe that the animal pictured above is a big, strange looking cottontail. Ontario Wanderer commented on this post that hares seen in January in Algonquin Park are completely white. This white patchiness but not real whiteness of this beast had me worried already. So I checked with Terry Sprague, a local naturalist who gets out there as was bound to know what's around. He kindly got back to me and told me that there are indeed snowshoe hares among the cottontails in the area, for example, in a conservation area south of Thomasburg, and that they are white this time of year. He also thought that the photograph showed the foot of the animal well enough for him to determine that it wasn't a snowshoe foot--another point on which I was unsure. There has also been a discussion of these two species on the Eastern Ontario Nature List. They occur together all over Eastern Ontario, though some report that the snowshoes stick to deep cover while the cottontails come around the house, but this is not universal. There has also been concern that perhaps the lateness and intermittance of the snow cover this year has put the snowshoe hares at a severe disadvantage--sticking out like sore thumbs on the bare ground when they are seen.

What I have learned from all of this--pee, whiteness, tracks, etc? Red pee is not particularly a sign of a snowshoe--it can occur in any rabbit/hare under certain circumstances--those circumstances however are not clearly understood. (Thanks Troutgrrrl for the further references on this topic--see her comment on this post). I have found tracks of snowshoe hares in the yard near the house--and it isn't too surprising, there is habitat less than 50 metres away of the kind they like (good, thick coniferous cover). I have not yet seen a snowshoe hare in winter in Thomasburg. Cottontails can be big, small, dark, blond, patchy, elegant, shy and brave.

I've learned a lot in other words. I've gained a better understanding of questions that have been bothering me winter after winter for all the years I've lived in Thomasburg. (Of course, my favourite part of winter is that there is so much sign around many questions are raised.)

All that's left is to do is actually lay eyes on a Thomasburg snowshoe hare in winter.


John B. said...

My guess would be something in the diet was affecting the animals. I know this happens with birds; their droppings become red or purplish after they consume mulberries, cherries, and the like.

Ontario Wanderer said...

It still looks like a cottontail to me, but I am not an expert. I've seen a few snowshoe hares in Algonquin and they were very white by New Years.

Pamela Martin said...

Thanks for the comments. I think this creature would make a couple of meals, even for a red-tail.

Yes, I've seen red and purple bird droppings--a result it looked to me of incomplete digestion. I suspect the opposite is the cause of red urine.

I thought a snowshoe would be white by this time of the year too. And I've seen a white hare in the early spring just about 10km north of Thomasburg. But this animal didn't look like a cottontail to me. Algonquin Park is considerably north of me, which might make the difference. I plan to consult my local naturalist and ask him what he's seen where.

TroutGrrrl said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
TroutGrrrl said...

Hey Pamela,
I found a couple of tidbits about red rabbit urine. [Link]
The technical term for it is 'porphyrinuria.' It sounds like it's a normal condition for rabbits resulting from excretion of intact porphyrin rings from chlorophyll in rabbit food. Perhaps the intensity of the red color is proportional to the intact-ness of the chlorophyll in the plants that the rabbit is eating. Not sure. I think this condition can occur in humans too, but for us it's a symptom of kidney malfunction.