Talk about rabbits and hare questions come up. In fact, so many hare questions have come my way lately that I went to Australia’s hare expert, Dr. Phillip Stott at the University of Adelaide to get some answers. He has kindly passed on the following in response to my inquiries.
Hares are currently regarded as a minor pest, but they do sometimes cause serious damage to LandCare tree plantings and also to new grapevines. However, there have been plagues of hares in Australia in years gone by, and because we don’t understand the ecology of hares very well, they can be regarded as a “sleeper” species – a widespread species that doesn’t currently cause much of a problem, but has a history of causing trouble in Australia and elsewhere.
A hare looks like a large long-legged rabbit, but they are quite different in many ways. Hares don’t burrow, whereas rabbits do. Hares are born above ground, fully-furred, and with their eyes open; whereas rabbits are born underground, naked, and with their eyes closed. Hares try to outrun their predators, whereas rabbits try to sprint to the nearest burrow. The hare has a big heart – more than six times the size of a rabbit heart but the animal is only twice the body weight – as you’d expect of an extreme athlete.
Hares were brought to Australia many times. Some were brought to Australia on the clipper ship “Lightning” on the same 1859 voyage that brought the rabbit plague to Australia. But the most important importations were brought in by the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria between 1860 and 1866, and it was these hares that spread widely through Australia.
They all came from England. The Acclimatisation Society’s hares were sent by the Zoological Society of London.
I also remember talking to Phillip one time that his research facility for hares has to be round. They are so easily stressed and have so much power in their bodies that they’ll break their legs or necks in any cage corner. Hence, he removed the corners.