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Adorable snowshoe hares found to routinely feast on their own dead: study

Delhi News-Record 2019-01-11 02:36:20

A series of motion captured images from December, 2015 showing a snowshoe hare eating the feathers of a dead spruce grouse. From the paper Scavenging by Snowshoe Hares (Lepus Americanus) in Yukon, Canada

Despite a longstanding belief that hares keep a strictly vegan diet, a surprising new Canadian study has found that they will actually eat whatever meat they can find, even if it comes from a fellow hare.

“It was almost 15 per cent of the carcasses we had put out (that) had a snowshoe hare scavenging at them … so it seems like something that is pretty regular in their winter diet,” University of Alberta researcher Michael Peers, the study’s lead author, told the Edmonton Journal.

The study, published in the journal Northwestern naturalist, saw researchers spend more than two years leaving out road-killed animal carcasses in a region of the Yukon Territory populated by snowshoe hares. Then, using motion capture cameras, they watched what the hares were eating and how often.

A snowshoe hare. Ian Kucerak/Postmedia File

The Yukon hares ate lynx, they ate birds such as snow buntings and spruce grouse — and they ate their own brethren. A hare carcass left in a stand of trees in late 2015 was scavenged 24 times by fellow hares within the course of a week.

“This carcass deployment was particularly unique, as multiple hares were seen at the carcass simultaneously, and based on posture and subsequent chases, it appeared that individuals defended the carcass from other hares,” reads the study.

The paper adds to a growing body of evidence showing that herbivores will frequently choose to eat meat when it’s available, but are simply bad at finding it.

A viral video from 2010 shows a deer eating a baby bird that has fallen on the ground. Canadian, U.S. and Scottish bird researchers have since confirmed the same phenomenon of deer eating fallen baby birds or mowing through the contents of a low-lying nest.

However, YouTube videos do exist of pet rabbits mowing through burgers or other meat offered to them by their owners.

A particularly illuminating 2016 study out of Switzerland found that if given the opportunity, domestic rabbits would eat flesh every day. A team of zoologists reported on a Swiss bird sanctuary where domestic rabbits shared an enclosure with a population of small birds-of-prey.

Almost immediately, the rabbits began regularly tearing into the dishes of dead chicks and mice left out for the birds, and soon seemed to count the meat as their favourite food.

“When the caretaker brought the daily prey ration for the raptors, the rabbits immediately ran towards the person and followed him even when the dish was placed on an upper perch,” wrote the paper.

A rabbit sharing an enclosure with birds of prey eats the entrails of a mouse. Photo taken at Switzerland’s Berg am Irchel Bird of Prey Sanctuary. From the paper Carcass consumption by domestic rabbits

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