If you have been making the most of the spring sunshine by walking in the countryside you will undoubtedly have seen many rabbits.
If you were really lucky you might have spotted a brown, common or mountain hare – note: if you wonder whether or not it’s a hare, it is almost always a rabbit!
So, what’s the difference?
Hares have much longer back legs than their rabbit cousins, enabling them to reach speeds of more than 40 miles per hour.
This makes them one of the fastest land mammals in the world.
Hares also have much longer ears than rabbits, with black tips, although both species can almost fully rotate their ears allowing them to hear sound from any direction.
You can often spot a hare with one enormous ear facing forward, with the other turned around by up to 270 degrees to face the rear.
Another difference is that hares live above the ground in shallow nest-like structures called ‘forms’, whilst rabbits dig burrows and live, and raise their young (called kittens), underground.
This makes a hare’s offspring (called leverets) very vulnerable to predation, and so they are born with their eyes open and they are able to hop within minutes of leaving the womb.
March is the peak breeding season for hares and they have a habit of hopping down the middle of country lanes at this time of year, looking for a mate.
So, it’s even more imperative that drivers are extra vigilant, particularly at night time, and dawn and dusk.
‘Mad as a March hare’ is an expression that’s been used for hundreds of years, and it refers to the rather odd behaviour that hares show in the spring – namely boxing.
The pugilists are usually the females, spurning the advances of amorous males by walloping their prospective partners.
They look like they’re boxing because the female and male are on their back legs, hitting each other with their front paws.
The boxing usually occurs once the female hare has ‘tested’ the male in a running competition. If he lacks the stamina and commitment to keep up, or if he advances too soon, she will see him off and seek an alternative mate.
The time hares devote to courtship, and the odd beauty of it, means that they are seen as icons of fertility.
They have long been honoured in pagan rituals celebrating springtime, and eventually evolved through changing traditions into the Easter bunny (who is not a rabbit!).
Despite their iconic status and magical associations, the hare population has declined by more than 80% in the UK over the past 100 years, and the situation is thought to be similar in the Isle of Man.
Much of the cause is down to the use of pesticides and the cutting down of habitat, in particular long grasses and hedgerows.
But hares are classed as a game animals and, as such, can be legally hunted if they are considered to be a pest (i.e. if they damage crops or young trees).
On the Isle of Man it is still legal to shoot a mountain hare without a licence, although this is under review; but to shoot a common or brown hare the gun holder must obtain a licence from the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture for just £10.
The ManxSPCA would like there to be a heavier burden of proof for hares to be considered as pests and a much higher threshold, and cost, for the issuing of licences to kill them.
We should be treasuring these beautiful creatures and only shooting them with cameras.
If you are unfortunate enough to come across an injured hare, or any other wounded wild mammal or bird, please try to take it to the nearest veterinary practice.
A vet will provide emergency treatment and you won’t be charged.