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Changing Hare Color

May 6, 2013

Climate change could make snowshoe hare camouflage less protective.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Changing hare color.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Snowshoe hares are famous for molting from brown to white when winter comes, to blend in with the snow. But recently, climate change has been delaying snowfall in the Rocky Mountains, and more and more white hares are showing up on a brown background. That makes them easy snacks for everything from mountain lions to owls. University of Montana population ecologist Scott Mills and his colleagues found that day length, rather than snowfall, initiates the color change.

L. SCOTT MILLS (University of Montana):

So the second week of October, no matter how much snow is on the ground, they start to go from brown to white. So they’re not like a chameleon where they can just change from brown to white if snow is there.

HIRSHON:

Climate experts expect 50 fewer snowy days by the turn of the century, which means a lot more snowshoe hares could become sitting ducks. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

A snowshoe hare during transitional molt has a combination of brown and white fur. (D. Sikes/Flickr)