Science

The Art of Camouflage – the Story of Clarence

Come meet the animals using the wetlands of Vermont during the winter season. The Winter Tracking Series will share a new story every week until the full moon following the first day of spring; March 20, 2016.

wetland coverphoto

During the winter, when the ground is frozen in varying shades of white, gray, and sometimes shades of blue, a wetland often appears devoid of life. No movement. No sound. Have all the amphibians, birds and mammals gone away?

Chapter 2: The art of camouflage, the story of Clarence
My name is Clarence, and I am a snowshoe hare. I was named after my grandfather. I was born in a litter with 6 other brothers and sisters on May 25th up in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. When I was born, I already had my fur coat and started hopping around the very first day. We grow up fast!

Do you see that stand of spruce trees in the picture above? Well, there is an open meadow on the other side that you can’t see, and this is where I lived for most of the summer. I’ll tell you about the wetland you see in the photo a little later on in my story, because it is pretty important.

My first summer was good. I learned a lot.  I had to learn how to look out for other animals that want to catch me for their dinner. There are lots of animals that try to catch me; Ms. Fisher, Mr. Coyote, Mrs. Fox, Owl and Mrs. Lynx. Don’t worry there will be a story for some of them too. I had to learn how to run fast and zig-zag back and forth to escape. Did you know that I can run up to 27 mph and when I hop as far as I can, I can jump almost 10 feet?  I also learned how to hide and to stand completely still so that I blend in with the rocks and trees. I even know how to swim; I am a really good swimmer.

Clarence the snowshoe hare eating grassI eat lots of grass and other soft stemmed green plants, some with pretty flowers. I really liked the wild strawberry, dandelions, daisies, and clovers. Here is a picture is of me in late June at the edge of the meadow. My fur coat is brown and I think I look quite handsome.  The edges of my ears are white with black tips, very distinguished don’t you think?

Clarence the snowshoe hare begins changing color once fall startsThen as the summer passed, I saw leaves on the trees start to turn all sorts of colors; red, yellow, and orange. It began to get colder and I noticed that the nights were longer and my fur started to turn white!  Wow, was I surprised, but it finally made sense why some folks call me a varying hare. I never knew what that meant before, but it means that my fur coat has variation between seasons; it changes color. The adult hares told me that soon I would be all white except for the black tips on my ears. I was so excited! I still didn’t understand why I was called a snowshoe hare, but I soon would.

The Snowshoe hare is almost completely white, with the tips of his ears staying black.My fur kept getting more and more white, and then one day I woke up and there was this cold white stuff on the ground, my first experience of snow. Here is a picture of me with my fur all funny looking, patches of white and brown fur. And here is a picture of me with my all white coat.  I really blend in with the snow. This is a good thing because it helps me hide from those other animals that want to eat me. Camouflage! Then in the spring, my fur starts to turn brown again.

But now that winter has come, let me tell you about the wetland. You see, during the winter months, I spent a lot of time in the wetland. All white snowshoe hair eating a twigThe snow covers up most of what I would eat in the meadow, and many of the plants I ate during the summer had died. So, I went into the wetland and tried eating some new things.

There are trembling aspen, birches, and willows along the edge and in the wetland. There are also berry bushes and seedlings of alders. The twigs, bark, and buds of these woody plants are quite tasty, and I do like eating the evergreen parts of the spruce and hemlock. The wetland provides all of these foods for me. Here is a photo of me eating willow in early spring.  I’m really lucky to live so close to such a nice wetland.

Maybe you have seen my tracks in the snow? Oh, that’s right, I forgot…it was during my first winter that I learned why I am called a snowshoe hare.  Just look at my big feet.  They are huge, but they help to keep me safe. You see, these feet act just like snowshoes; keeping me on top of the snow. This helps me to be able to outrun Mr. Coyote, Mrs. Fox, and Ms. Fisher. I have to be really careful for Mrs. Lynx though, because she has big feet too that work the same way mine do, and she is fast. I think the next chapter is about her. But, in the meantime, here I am hopping over the snow. I step forward with my front feet and then leapfrog over them with my hind feet, so this is what my tracks look like usually. See if you can find me in a wetland the next time you visit one during the winter! I usually only come out at dusk, dawn and during the night.Snowshoe hare tracksSnowshoe hare hopping over the snow

Have a great winter and Happy Winter Tracking…join us for the next Chapter of this series and meet Mrs. Lynx.