Daily, I peruse the web for news on science, health, space, and technology. Partially, this is due to my writing for redOrbit, but I did this even before I started writing here. I really just love these four topics, most particularly science and health. As I recently was browsing my favorite news sites, I came across an article on National Public Radio (NPR) about how climate change is affecting even rabbits, specifically the snowshoe hare.
Why is it called the snowshoe hare, you ask? According to redOrbit’s reference library, the snowshoe hare is named as such “because its back feet are so big. It looks as though it is wearing big shoes to walk in the snow. The animal’s big feet prevent it from sinking into the snow when it hops and walks.” But what is really cool about the snowshoe hare is its camouflaging ability. During winter this coney turns snow white in order to blend in with the snow of its ecosystem while in summer it sheds the white fur and replaces it with rusty brown fur in order to best hide during the summer months.
Pretty clever, huh? This camouflaging ability, though, is getting the hare into trouble. See, NPR explains “Hares switch color in the spring and fall in response to light, when the days get longer or shorter. But that means they’re at the mercy of the weather. If the snow comes late, you get a white hare on brown ground.” And since the snowshoe hare is at the bottom of the food chain in its ecosystem (for real…even squirrels are in its list of predators.), being white when the ground is brown or brown when the ground is white is a pretty serious problem. Did I mention that the environmentally mismatched bunny still thinks it is camouflaged?
Yep, that is right. The snowshoe hare who turns white too early or brown too early does not realize that it has made itself even more visible as prey. Climate change has seriously affected the snowshoe hare’s life cycle. It is not just the snowshoe hare’s life that is in danger, but also the predators who rely on this rabbit species for sustenance. In the words of the NPR report, “Scott Mills of North Carolina State University leads the research. He says they’re finding that mismatched hares die at higher rates. That’s a concern for the threatened Canada lynx, which mainly eats these hares.”
If the hares die out as a source of food for its predators, which includes lynx, foxes, coyotes, raptors, birds of prey, and red squirrels (they prey on young hares.), then these predators face a very harsh future. The food chain works because of the predator and prey relationship. They rely on each other. When one predator is affected, so is the prey and vice versa. We need both for balance.
Now, Mr. Mills does acknowledge that the hares might be able to adapt over time, but the concern is whether or not they can do so at the same rate as climate change, which is happening pretty quickly. Much has been noted about the bigger effects of climate change, but this smaller, cuter one holds just as much importance. Those small effects often lead to larger problems. This is definitely the case for the snowshoe hare.
The question is what do we do about it?
Image Credit: Thinkstock.com