When you see two hares boxing during the mating season, you’re witnessing a dispute over territorial or mating rights between males.
Hares really do box, standing up on their hind legs and thumping each other with their paws, their angled stances irresistibly reminding modern humans of 19th century prizefighters. And what a glorious sight it must be for those very few people lucky enough to witness it, now that hares are an endangered species in Britain – and are still, incidentally, the only game species in the country that does not have a shooting close season. But even if you do see a pair of boxing hares, you are not in fact seeing a struggle for dominance between two bucks – but a female declining the attentions of a suitor, in a manner that allows for little ambiguity. The mating season of the European or Brown hare ( Lepus europæus) lasts from January to August, but it’s during the “Spring frenzy”, or “Mad March”, when the hares are at their most visibly excitable. For a long time it was assumed that boxing involved males, but it’s now been shown that it’s almost always a female preventing a male from mating with her. Whether this is because she isn’t yet ready to mate, or because she’s testing the male’s fitness, is less clear. When hares chase each other at high speed during the Spring frenzy, this is more likely to be a male chasing a rival away from a receptive female.
If you’re knowledgeable about Leporidæ, or indeed pugilism, you are more than welcome to give any errors a thorough spanking on the letters page.