FOOD AND FEEDING HABITS OF THE MOUNTAIN HARE LEPUS TIMIDUS SCOTICUS, HILZHEIMER

Authors


Abstract

The food of the mountain hare Lepus timidus scoticus Hilzheimer was studied by means of stomach analysis, and the use of hare-proof enclosures on moorland; and grazing habits by regular visits to a study area in Banffshire. The main grazing period is at night, varying seasonally in relation to sunset and sunrise. During the day grazing may occur sporadically, or intensively if before rain or during heavy snow cover. Refection, that is the production of soft faeces which are swallowed directly from the anus, occurs during the period between the end of morning grazing and the start of the next evening's grazing. On ground covered with young ling Calluna vulgaris, mountain hares removed 27 per cent of the vegetation (dry weight) from the control plot, and on cotton grass Eriophorum spp. ground, 20 per cent and 24 per cent from control plots. In three of the eight enclosures used, on various herbage complexes, there was no appreciable difference from the control plots. Analysis of the dried stomach contents of forty-seven mountain hares, collected at monthly intervals over a period of a year, showed that ling formed 90 per cent of the winter and about half the summer diet. Cotton grass made up about a tenth of the winter and a fifth of the summer diet, while grass species, present as a trace in winter stomachs, increased to a quarter of the total food in summer. Food plants of particular importance during storms and complete snow cover may be missed by the method of sampling or the use of enclosures. The extent to which hares grazed these plants was verified by visits during snow. Gorse Ulex europaeus, juniper Juniperis communis and soft rush Juncus effusus, are among the chief food plants in storms and snow cover.

Summary

1. The grazing habits of the mountain hare are described. The main grazing period is at night, varying seasonally in relation to sunset and sunrise. Sporadic grazing, or intensive grazing before rain or during snow cover, may occur during the day.

2. Refection, the production of soft faeces which are swallowed directly from the anus, occurs during the day, beginning with the end of intensive grazing and ceasing with its resumption.

3. The use of hare-proof enclosures on moorland showed that on ground covered with young ling Calluna vulgaris mountain hares removed 27 per cent of the vegetation (dry weight), and on cotton grass Eriophorum spp. ground 20 per cent and 24 per cent. In three out of eight enclosures used, covering various herbage complexes, there was no appreciable difference from the control plots.

4. Analysis of the dried stomach contents of forty-seven mountain hares, collected at approximately monthly intervals over a period of a year, showed that ling formed almost 90 per cent of the winter and about half the summer diet. Cotton grass made up about a tenth of the winter and a fifth of the summer diet, while grass species present as a trace in winter stomachs, increased to a quarter of the total food in summer.

5. Food plants of particular importance during storms and complete snow cover may be missed by the method of sampling or the use of enclosures. The extent to which hares grazed these plants was verified by visits during snow. Gorse Ulex europaeus, juniper Juniperus communis and soft rush Juncus effusus are among the chief food plants in storms and snow cover.

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