Snowshoe hares, on trend with arctic fashion, have snow-white winter coats they shed in favor of sleek, earthy brown duds in warmer months.
This luxurious look blends with their locale, keeping them safe from predators like stoats and foxes.
As the earth warms, we’re seeing fewer snowy days each year. The snow melts earlier and arrives later. Models predict that 50 years from now in Montana—one place snowshoe hares hop—there will be 20 fewer snow days each year than today. Snowshoe hares use day length, not temperature, to determine when to molt. Until recently, this trusty strategy was a more reliable indicator of seasonal flux. Now, however, snowshoe hares find themselves overdressed for the party.
But snowshoe hares don’t know they’re overdressed. They think they’re camouflaged and still practice their now not-so-sneaky “you can’t see me!” sit-and-hide strategy, making them easy pickings for hungry hare hunters. They have a 7 percent higher chance of being eaten, which might or might not sound like a lot, but, according to Scott Mills, NC State University professor of wildlife population ecology, “at this rate, given what we know, we can predict that hares will severely decline by the end of this century.”
Hares might be able to hop out of this pickle. They could learn to run and hide, or they could start changing their coats earlier and wearing their brown coats longer, thanks to natural selection.
Snowshoes aren’t the only creatures suffering a fashion faux pas. At least 14 arctic species change coats with the seasons.
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