Cousins of your children’s favorite bunnies are actually carnivores!
Snowshoe hares were found feeding on a dead Canada lynx. Researchers and scientists set up remote trail cameras near Mount St. Elias on the Alaska border when they unexpectedly met hares eating the carcasses they dropped for another predator.
“It was shocking to see the first time,” Michael Peers, a Ph.D. candidate in ecology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton and led the study, told National Geograhic.
The discovery of cannibal hares shows that animals are not easily classified whether they are herbivores or carnivores.
Hares eating meat had been documented since 1921, but those reports where considered unreliable. In 2010, biologist Kevan Cowcill was studying mammal populations and set up sardines through the forest. Instead of meeting wolves, Cowcill saw hares eating them.
“They’d stand up on their hind legs, and pull the sardines out of the can that was nailed to the tree,” Cowill told National Geographic. “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?”
Cowcill did not publish his discovery and observations during that time, even the video footage of the hares eating the sardines. This is why Peers and his group’s study, published in Bio One Complete, is the first ever to support claims that hares are actually cannibals.
Rudy Boonstra, an ecophysiologist at the University of Toronto Scarborough and co-author of the study, shared that he also discovered how some known herbivore animals are not actually herbivores.
“The first thing they would do is eat the brains,” Boonstra said. “In winter, most of these herbivores are on a protein-deficient diet, and they’re trying to make up for it.”
According to the report by Adam Popescu for National Geographic, the mammals feed on vegetation during summer months, and later on scavenge of other hare carcasses and birds.