Have you ever heard the phrase As mad as a March hare? It’s actually based on a misconception. Often in spring, hares can be seen ‘boxing’. It was once believed that these bouts were between males, fighting each other for the right to breed – hence the expression. But we now know that the fights are usually between males and females.
During the mating season, female hares are pursued by enthusiastic males. But if she is not ready (or willing) to mate, the female will stand upright and fight off her would be suitor. When she is ready, the female will start a chase to find the fittest male. When those with little stamina drop out and only one male remains, he has the honour of fathering her children.
It’s fitting that hares choose their mate by racing. They are fast animals, capable of reaching speeds of 45 mph. Sadly, our lust for blood has led to hare coursing – a sick ‘sport’ in which dogs chase a hare (which has no chance of escape) before ripping it apart for the enjoyment of the onlookers. Thankfully, hare coursing is illegal, but it does still go on.
Hares have exposed lives. Unlike rabbits, they do not live underground. Instead, hares scoop out a depression in the soil known as a ‘form’. Here they spend the daylight hours, before coming out to feed at night. Their favourite foods are grass and cereal crops, which has made them the enemies of farmers.
Hares are also killed by ‘accident’. There is one sad story of 30 hares living in a field which was sprayed with pesticide. The frightened creatures sat tight as the machine passed by and were covered in poison. All 30 died after licking themselves clean.
Unlike most other game animals, hares have very little legal protection. Most game has a ‘close season’ in which it is forbidden to kill them – no such joy for the hare. All year round they are persecuted. It is this persecution, together with a change in farming methods, which has led to an 80% fall in the UK’s hare numbers over the last century.
There are still many of us who love hares (including us here at Education Quizzes!) and want to see them protected. If you’d like to know more about these amazing animals, and what you can do to help them, take a look at The Hare Preservation Trust site. It’s a great place to learn about these timid creatures.