If you’re fond of bunnies, you might want to sit down. According to several new photos, which were recently captured in Canada’s Yukon Territory, hares eat meat to survive the region’s harsh conditions. Furthermore, they will resort to cannibalism if food resources are limited.
National Geographic reports that during the summer months hares feed on vegetation. However, when snow blankets the landscape and causes temperatures to plunge to -30 degrees Fahrenheit, the hungry mammals will scavenge other creatures’ carcasses — including those belonging to the same species.
“It was shocking to see the first time,” said Michael Peers, a Ph.D candidate in ecology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. He added that he believes the hares are boosting their protein intake during harsh times. “I had no idea they actually scavenge,” said Peers.
Peers discovered the meat-eating hares when he set up remote trail cameras next to hare carcasses near Mount St. Elias on the Alaska border. The PhD candidate was expecting predators to drop in and pick at the carcasses. Instead, hares were observed eating from 20 of 161 carcasses over a period of two-and-a-half years. The surprising find suggests that the animals eat meat on a regular basis. As a result, they can’t easily be classified as herbivores or as carnivores.
This is the first time hares eating meat have ever been caught on camera. But, this isn’t the first time scientists have speculated on the diet of hares. In 2010, biologist Kevan Cowcill set out partially opened cans of sardines throughout the boreal forest in Ontario, Canada. He expected wolves and martens to pluck up the offering – instead, his camera traps captured hares.
“They’d stand up on their hind legs, and pull the sardines out of the can that was nailed to the tree,” said Cowcill. Unlike Peer, he did not publish the observations in a scientific journal. “I’ve seen one at a carcass, but I assumed it was just gnawing on the bones, as I’ve found numerous bones and antlers with gnaw marks from hares and from rodents. Maybe it was actually eating the meat too?”
Snowshoe hare aren’t the only species willing to scavenge the remains of others. As National Geographic reports, cottontail rabbits have been seen scavenging grouse in the Appalachians, cows prey on bird eggs and chicks in Wisconsin, beavers eat dead salmon in Alaska, and white-tailed deer in the Dakotas raid the nests of ground-dwelling birds.
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