MYTHCONCEPTIONS

Fortean Times - - Strange Days - by Mat Cow­ard

The myth

When you see two hares box­ing dur­ing the mat­ing sea­son, you’re wit­ness­ing a dis­pute over ter­ri­to­rial or mat­ing rights be­tween males.

The “truth”

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.

Dis­claimer

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.

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