Friday mystery object #140 answer


On Friday I gave you this skull to identify:

I thought it would be an easy one and I wasn’t wrong, although several of you seemed to second-guess my intentions and assumed that I was trying to trick you because it seemed too easy.

The small second incisors (or peg-teeth) just behind the big first incisors were a complete give-away for the group of animals this skull came from – the Lagomorphs, which Jake spotted immediately.

Henstridgesj, Jamie Revell, Debi Linton and Jake all suggested that it came from a Hare (a young one at that), and Jamie Revell got the right species with the Brown or European Hare Lepus europaeus Pallas, 1778. Jamie Revell was also spot-on in guessing my rationale for having this object when he said “Well, it is March…“.

March Hare

March Hare illustrated by John Tenniel in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

The ‘Mad March Hare is an interesting idiom, since there is not a particularly obvious reason why March should be associated with ‘mad’ behaviour in Hares. The boxing behaviour displayed by Hares (see video below) happens throughout the breeding season – from February all the way through to September.

This behaviour is often mistaken as male Hares fighting over mates, but actually it occurs when the females are fighting off the unwanted advances of males. The male-male interactions tend to be males chasing off other males in rapid flurries.

The Mammal Society propose a plausible reason why this ‘mad’ boxing and chasing behaviour is associated with March:

It may actually occur at any time in the long breeding season, but is most visible in March  (lighter evenings, but vegetation still low).

Since the Brown Hare breeding season lasts such a long time there can be several litters born throughout the year. The young Hares or leverets like the specimen above are well-developed when born (unlike Rabbit kits) and their mother tends to leave them on their own for much of the time, only returning to feed them once a day. So if you’re lucky enough to see a young Hare in a field all by itself, don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal.

5 thoughts on “Friday mystery object #140 answer

  1. FMO #140 really did seem obvious at first but I was wrong! I didn’t know young hares didn’t share the same name as that of young rabbits. That’s a new word for me. 🙂 How can you tell if you’re looking at a hare or a rabbit skull? I’m so biased because of my house rabbits that I never even considered their non-domesticated relatives.

    • That is a good question and I think it will merit a blog post in itself – I will sort something out about this ASAP, although it probably won’t be this week as I have a conference to organise.

      • Thanks, Paolo. That’s something to look forward to; I would love a whole post on the skeletons of hares and rabbits. Have fun organizing your conference this week. See you and everyone else Friday for #141!

  2. Another interesting, and appropriately seasonal, FMO. Thanks Paolo.

    Rhea, here are side-by-side images of rabbit and Brown Hare skulls. The differences are subtle: http://www.skullsite.co.uk/Lagomorphs/lagomorphs.htm

    When identifying the species, it helps to have an up-to-date reference guide. My copy of “A Field Guide to the Mammals of Britain and Europe” by FH van den Brink, dates from 1967 (and is a translation of the earlier 1955 Dutch original). It’s a treasured possession, but it may be time to get an update as it describes the Brown Hare as being Lepus capensis. Some further research on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_hare) tells me that L. capensis and L. europaeus were once considered to be the same species. It’s worth taking a look if you’re interested in the taxonomy.

    The myth of hares boxing only in March is a fine example of Selection Bias. If you’re interested in statistical methods (and I know you are) you can find more about that here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selection_bias

    • Hi henstridgesj, I appreciate your sharing some materials for me to chew on while I wait for Paolo’s rabbit/hare post. The differences are so subtle I would have attributed them to simple minor differences between individuals (hence my original assumption on FMO #140). I love rabbits, taxonomy, and actually I do (over)use the words, “statistically speaking” in conversations. 🙂

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