The Hare minimum: Hare we Go   Leave a comment

This week we’re starting a new feature called ‘The Hare minimum’. It’s a short, to-the-point consideration of an interesting nature, environmental, or scientific subject that won’t take long to report, but should still be interesting, entertaining, and might give you something to think about. We would have titled it the ‘Bear Minimum’, but we can’t write about bears every time.

Appropriately our first story is actually about hares – or rather, lagomorphs in general which is the family that includes hares; rabbits; and pikas, the much-less known, smaller-eared rabbit relatives living in high, mountainous regions. Another possible title was ‘The Lagomorph minimum’, but that doesn’t make any sense.

A Pika considers its future.   Also, what to eat for lunch.

A Pika considers its future. Also, what to eat for lunch.

Lagomorphs are unique types of animals, not rodents (like mice or beavers or guinea pigs); nor ungulates (sheep or goats or horses); nor closely related to any other type of animal. As such, they are both unique and specialized, but also highly adaptive and flexible – lags, in some form, live on virtually every continent and every habitat ranging from tropical to arctic. Scientists are now discovering that due to their wide-spread lifestyle (the rabbit family, not the scientists who usually concentrate on just one topic), rabbits and their relatives may become the ‘canary in the mine’ for climate change: A hundred years ago, unfortunate canaries carried into gold and silver mines as living alarms were the first to suffer from poisonous air; in the not-too-distant future rabbits, hares, and pikas may be the first to feel effects of a warming and unstable climate. Within the past five years the American Pika (Ochotona princeps) has been disappearing from over one-third of its traditional range, as food and water sources fade and longer and hotter summers become, to this temperature-sensitive animal, unlivable.

Twenty-five percent of all lagomorphs are currently listed as threatened or endangered. As animals often living in transitional zones such as the wildland-urban interface where established human development and undeveloped areas meet, the lives of rabbits and their relatives remind us of another unique, specialized, adaptive and wide-ranging species: Humans. Who, if we pay attention, could take a lesson on flexibility from our rabbit friends as we all learn to cope with a changing environment and unsteady future.

Michonne Says: There’s not as many of the little Pikas around much anymore but I hadn’t though about it until now. It’s funny how you never miss something until you start to think about it, and then that’s all you think about. Maybe if I put out some flowers for them to eat they will come back.

 

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