Another white-haired mammal named ukaleq
Do you remember the first episode? where I told you that our study site was called Ukaleqarteq? "the place where there are hares", in Greenlandic.
Ukaleq: the hare. But not just any one! Four closely related species live in the Arctic: the Alaskan hare (west coast of Alaska), the snowshoe hare (Canada and Alaska, roughly south of the Arctic Circle), the mountain hare (Scandinavia, Siberia, and it is the one that is also found in the British Isles and in the Alps), and finally the largest of all, the Arctic hare, in northern Canada and on the Greenlandic coasts.
Measuring 60 to 80 cm and weighing 3 to 5 kg, like the three other species of the Far North, it presents two types of coat depending on the season. The winter coat is entirely white, with the exception of the tips of the ears, which are black (allowing them to retain their sensitivity when warmed by a ray of sunlight). The summer coat, on the other hand, varies depending on location. At the lowest latitudes of its range, it turns brown for a few weeks, except the tail, legs and ears which remain white. At higher latitudes, on the other hand, there are simply a few gray or brown hairs that mix with the white hairs on the head and sometimes on the back, as you can see in the photo below:
But some individuals even remain completely white. In short, the Arctic hare is not that variable! And little camouflaged in summer!
Herbivorous, the beast feeds mainly on willow leaves (dwarf and creeping) but when the Arctic summer comes it does not hesitate to diversify its menu, as you will see in the video. In winter - yes, the beast is active all year round - it is thanks to its sense of smell and its digging qualities that the hare can reach the precious leaves, preferably where the snow is swept by the wind and therefore not very thick.
Well, let's try to imagine winter up there: in February the temperatures are between -11°C and -17°C, the snow cover is around one meter, and the wind blows on average between 25 and 30km/h... brrrrrrrrr suffice to say that the conditions are very harsh... but ukaleq has a few tricks up its sleeve! Starting with a coat of short, dense hair, under the layer of longer hair, which provides excellent insulation. A compact posture then, with legs, tail and ears pressed against the rest of the body, in order to limit heat loss. Only the rear legs, all covered in fur (real snowshoes, those), are in contact with the ground. And then it manages to position itself with its back to the wind, often sheltered by a rock, a snowdrift or a building, and it can even dig a tunnel in the snow, to take shelter in the periods of extreme cold.
And to protect itself from predators? A 360° view (the eyes are positioned really on the side of the head), the habit of being in groups, and then a nice burst of speed at 60 km/h (faster than 44.7 km/h by Usain Bolt, no less).
Back to Ukaleqarteq. I'll tell you one thing: only one of the photos above was taken there! We have certainly made several observations of Arctic hares there this year, particularly in the early morning, at the foot of the slope which leads to the auk colony. It's already better than in 2020, when I didn't see... any! But these individuals were relatively shy, and it was in fact in the village that I took most of the images. A family was settled around the guesthouse, and they were particularly familiar, even though the children of the village had fun from time to time chasing them with stones. Go understand the psychology of ukaleq…!
Anyway, for me the transition is obvious towards the next episode which will be devoted... to the village of Ittoqqortoormiit. Come on, practice pronouncing it a little more before next week!😉
And here to finish some footage from the hectic life of our hero of the day:
[next episode 9/10] Ittoqqortoormiit